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The overlooked change in NY’s property law is one minor obstacle to re-entry

“Restoring voting rights in many states for those with a criminal record is an encouraging step. In the same spirit, we need to educate New York families about their right to choose who will protect the generational wealth they have worked so hard to earn. and leave it to their loved ones. “

The overlooked change in NY’s property law is one minor obstacle to re-entry

Abigail Savitch-Lew

An empty courtroom in Brooklyn.

As a judge candidate for Manhattan’s Surrogate’s Court, also known as the Probate Court, I have had the privilege of speaking to thousands of New Yorkers while requesting to attend the June 28 primary vote. Typically, we would ask, “Are you a registered Democrat voting in New York,” and sometimes a person would apologetically respond, “I can not vote, I am a criminal.”

Many people are still unaware that this long-standing bar for political participation has been lifted. On May 4, 2021, former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law allowing people with crimes not imprisoned to register and vote.

Another important change that should be brought to the public’s attention is that on October 22, 2021, “criminal” was removed from the list of criteria that disqualified individuals from serving as trustees under the New York Surrogate Court Procedure Act. Instead of a general ban, this law allows people with crimes in their history to serve, while still giving the court the flexibility to disqualify persons in certain cases where a previous conviction was linked to fraud, embezzlement or could be detrimental to the welfare of the estate. .

The intent of this legislation was to give those who have completed their sentence the opportunity to serve the role of trustee when handling the estate of a family member, especially where the deceased specifically requested that this person serve this role. In general, the Surrogate’s Court is respectful of a testator’s wishes and designates the party they have named. The fact that persons with a criminal conviction before this law were unable to administer the property of their own parents was contrary to this respect and potentially legally onerous.

The bright line that orders exclusion not only cancels the deceased’s choice, but can also result in the appointment of the public administrator, despite the existence of a close family willing to assume this responsibility. Furthermore, hiring the public trustee results in fewer assets for distribution among family because the trustee’s costs and fees are paid from the estate.

These two legislative changes – who can register to vote and participate in the political process and who can act as a custodian of a property – reflect New York’s growing need to remove barriers to re-entry. This tendency recognizes that persons who have served their sentence are redeemed in the eyes of the law and can return with full rights and responsibilities.

In my experience from law school as a volunteer at the Lorton Reformatory, and later as a volunteer with the National Lawyers Guilds prison post project, I saw firsthand the importance of connecting with an often overlooked population. What better way to promote re-entry than to allow all persons identified by the deceased to take care of their family’s financial and emotional needs at such a critical time?

While today’s debate on bail, sentencing and other issues relating to criminal justice reform is on the minds of many, we must not lose sight of the importance of facilitating re-entry for a significant population.

Restoring voting rights in many states for people with crime is an encouraging step. In the same spirit, we must inform New York families of their right to choose who will protect the generational wealth they have worked so hard to earn and leave to their loved ones.

Regardless of your political beliefs or your model of redemption, we can all agree that in terms of voting rights and tax liability, we should encourage, not exclude, full community participation.

Elba Rose Galvan, a judge in Kings County Surrogate’s Court, is a candidate for Surrogate’s Court judge in New York County.

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