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The daughter of beloved character actor Peter Falk is waging a state-by-state campaign to grant children access to an elderly or incapacitated parent who is under someone else's care, and on Thursday she told Newsmax TV that her visiting-rights bills are advancing in New York and California.
"The visitation bill basically is a protection, a law that protects adult children and ailing elderly parents when your parent is being isolated or secluded away from family, friends and loved ones," Catherine Falk told "Newsmax Now" co-hosts Miranda Khan and John Bachman.
Falk was caught up in a very public battle over access to her father, best known as the rumpled detective in the classic network television series, "Columbo." Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in his later years, he died in 2011 at age 83 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Catherine Falk said at the time that her stepmother, Peter Falk's second wife, Shera, banned her from the funeral. The bulk of the actor's estate went to Falk's second wife, according to reports.
In the years immediately preceding his death, "My dad was basically incapacitated," said Falk.
"He had Alzheimer's disease, he had just gone through hip replacement surgery, and nobody could access my dad," she said.
She went to court to contest the exclusion and learned that California law favors spouses in family disputes over probate, power of attorney and conservatorship, and that she would have to legally challenge her stepmother's designation as conservator, she said.
After her father's death, Falk said, she and her lawyer decided to seek a change in the law. The result is the Peter Falk Bill introduced in the legislatures of California and the actor's home state, New York, by lawmakers who have taken up the cause.
"This streamlines the process where an adult child can go into court and petition the court without having to go through a long, lengthy battle in probate court and spend $100,000," said Falk. "It holds the caretaker accountable for any type of elder abuse, and it also allows children the ability to see their parents."
Falk said she would like to see federal legislation and for now is concentrating on getting states aboard. She said she is not fundraising, just trying to create awareness and momentum.
Until any Falk bill becomes law, there is "absolutely nothing on the books" to protect others from the same "awful" experience she had, she said.
"There's no legal recourse that adult children have currently that allows them to get any visitation to their parents," said Falk. "They're isolated, and isolation means elder abuse. We need a law to protect us and to protect our parents so that we can have a relationship in their final years and days of their life."
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Peter Falk's Daughter: Rights Bills Sparked by Dad's Case