Arts & Entertainment

Feinstein Institutes’ Drs. Kevin Tracey and Christina Brennan break down the current COVID-19 clinical trials and treatments. Photo courtesy of The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research

By Daniel Dunaief

In a collaboration between Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, doctors and researchers are seeking patients with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 for an at-home, over-the-counter treatment.

The two-week trial, which will include 84 people who are 18 years old and older, will use a high, but safe dose of Famotidine, or PEPCID, in a double-blind study. That means that some of the participants will receive a placebo while others will get the Famotidine.

Volunteers will receive the dosage of the medicine or the placebo at home and will also get equipment such as pulse oximeters, which measure the oxygen in their blood, and spirometers, which measure the amount of air in their lungs. They will also receive a scale, a thermometer, a fitness tracker and an iPad.

Dr. Christina Brennan. Photo courtesy of The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research

Northwell Health will send a certified phlebotomist — someone licensed to draw blood — to the participants’ homes to collect blood samples on the first, 7th, 14th, and 28th day of the study.

The study is the first time CSHL and Northwell Health have designed a virtual clinical trial that connects these two institutions.

“What is very powerful with our work with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is the ability to do a virtual trial and utilize patient-recorded outcome measures,” said Christina Brennan, a co-investigator on the study and Vice President for Clinical Research for Northwell Health. “I’m thrilled that we’re doing this type of virtual trial. It’s very patient-centric.”

While reports about the potential benefits of Famotidine have circulated around the country over the last year, this study will provide a data-driven analysis.

“If we study this in the outpatient population, then we might have an opportunity to see if [Famotidine] really does play a role in the reduction of the immune overreaction,” Brennan said.

At this point, researchers believe the drug may help reduce the so-called cytokine storm, in which the immune system becomes so active that it starts attacking healthy cells, potentially causing damage to organs and systems.

In an email, Principal Investigator Tobias Janowitz, Assistant Professor and Cancer Center Member at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, wrote that “there are some retrospective cohort studies” that suggest this treatment might work, although “not all studies agree on this point.”

In the event that a trial participant developed more severe symptoms, Janowitz said the collaborators would escalate the care plan appropriately, which could include interrupting the use of the medication.

In addition to Janowitz, the medical team includes Sandeep Nadella, gastroenterologist at Northwell, and Joseph Conigliaro, Professor of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.

Janowitz said he does not know how any changes in the virus could affect the response to famotidine.

In the trial, volunteers will receive 80 milligrams of famotidine three times a day.

The dosage of famotidine that people typically take for gastric difficulties is about 20 milligrams. The larger amount per day meant that the researchers had to get Food and Drug Administration approval for an Investigational New Drug.

“This has gone through the eyes of the highest regulatory review,” Brennan said. “We were given the green light to begin recruitment, which we did on January 13th.”

Volunteers are eligible to join the study if they have symptoms for one to seven days prior to entering the trial and have tested positive for the virus within 72 hours.

Potential volunteers will not be allowed in the trial if they have had other medications targeting COVID-19, if they have already used Famotidine in the past 30 days for any reason, if they have severe COVID that requires hospitalization, have a history of Stage 3 severe chronic disease, or if they are immunocompromised by the treatment of other conditions.

Brennan said Northwell has been actively engaged in treatment trials since the surge of thousands of patients throughout 2020.

Northwell participated in trials for remdesivir and also provided the steroid dexamethasone to some of its patients. The hospital system transfused over 650 patients with convalescent plasma. Northwell is also infusing up to 80 patients a day with monoclonal antibodies. The hospital system has an outpatient remdesivir trial.

“Based on all our experience we’ve had for almost a year, we are continuously meeting and deciding what’s the best treatment we have available today for patients,” Brennan said.

Janowitz hopes this trial serves as a model for other virtual clinical trials and is already exploring several potential follow up studies.

Brennan said the best way to recruit patients is to have the support of local physicians and providers. 

People interested in participating in the trial can send an email to [email protected] or call 516-881-7067.

When the study concludes, the researchers will analyze the data and are “aware that information on potential treatments for COVID-19, no matter if the data show that a drug works or does not work, should be made available to the community swiftly,” Janowitz wrote in an email.

The decision to test this medicine as a potential treatment for COVID-19 arose out of a conversation between Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center Dave Tuveson and CEO of the Feinstein Institute Kevin Tracey.

“I got involved because I proposed and developed the quantitative symptom tracking,” Janowitz explained.

Photo by Elisa Hendrey

BEACH HARP SHADOW

Elisa Hendrey of Sound Beach snapped this photo while taking a walk at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai on Jan. 12. She writes, ‘I decided to take a closer look at the driftwood that I saw at a distance. When I got up close I realized that the shadow looked to me like a harp so I shot the scene. Interestingly, an Alaskan friend of mine thought it looked like a dog sled. I can now see that, too. It was a rather cool surprise to see such an interesting shadow. I returned another day at a different time and found that the shadow was quite different and did not seem worth photographing, so I guess timing IS everything.’

Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park

By Tara Mae

Art is an expression of personal inspiration, and the Smithtown Township Art Council’s latest exhibit at the Mills Pond Gallery, A Sense of Place, examines how Long Island acts as a muse to local artists. The show opens Feb. 20.

The beautiful exhibit fills four gallery rooms and the center hall gallery on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion in St. James. A mixed media display, it includes book art, sculptures, acrylic, oil, and watercolor paintings. With 62 works by 48 artists from 32 communities across Long Island, the exhibit is a cross-section of local culture and influences, capturing scenes of nature and community.

“Long Islanders will see art about Long Island … places they see daily or places of their memories. We think the exhibit will help people reconnect with this place where they make and live their lives and hopefully inspire them toward ongoing care and interpretation of these places,” said Executive Director Allison Cruz. 

‘Walks Through Avalon’ by Loretta Oberheim

Increasing awareness about the environment was a goal for both Cruz and a number of the artists. Galvanized by the natural world and forged by remembrance, the art encompasses genres including realistic landscape vistas and abstract or surrealist renderings. How nature and memory intertwine is a recurring theme of the show, expressed through individual perspectives. 

“People will see beautiful forms of art and how artists felt in that time and that space and maybe it will get them to appreciate those places. Maybe this will make them want to venture out. It’s the little places that have been preserved … and the county parks, little gems that need more appreciation. The more that they are highlighted in exhibits, the more people will get to see them” said artist Loretta Oberheim, of Ronkonkoma.

Her abstract expressionist piece, Walks Through Avalon, is a sculpture mounted on canvas and made of alcohol inks on yupo paper. It is Oberheim’s homage to Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook, which she cites as one of her “happy places.” 

The exhibit explores the myriad ways Long Island informs artistic development and depiction. 

“I’m always on the lookout for an interesting or beautiful scene and feel fortunate to live in an area with such picturesque beaches, farms and woodlands,” said artist Robert Roehrig of East Setauket. His two landscape oil paintings, Facing the Sun and Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park, are tributes to local vistas: Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach and Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket, respectively. 

More than just imagery, the show incorporates the artists’ descriptions of their art and what inspired them, details that add insight into the impact of the installation, according to Cruz. “Artists couldn’t just submit the art; they also had to explain the connection they have to Long Island. [I asked them to] tell me what gives you a connection to this island that we live on,” she explained. 

‘Winter Scene, Frank Melville Park’ by Robert Roehrig

It is the second exhibit for which Cruz utilized this process. She previously included written testimonials of the artists’ motivations for the Celebrating Creativity exhibit back in November and was encouraged to do it for this installation after the positive response from visitors.

During the era of COVID-19, the gallery has striven to remain a respite for individuals seeking an escape into artistic beauty. The effort is a continuation of the gallery’s ongoing commitment to engaging the public and providing an escape from the doldrums and despair of the pandemic for both the artists and audience.

Nesconset artist Catherine Rezin’s piece, a watercolor and gouache painting, Along Great River, is a rendering of a photograph her husband took of the bank of the Connetquot River at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. 

“From the perspective of an artist, it is important to be seen, to allow other artists to see my work and to be inspired by their work. For the rest of the public, it is important to be able to go somewhere and retreat from reality, to connect with nature through art and to connect with Long Island through art,” said Rezin.

Participating artists include:

Marsha Abrams (Stony Brook), Lucia Alberti (Smithtown), Tina Anthony (Northport), Shain Bard (Huntington Station), Ron Becker (Deer Park), Joyce Bressler (Commack), Jean Marie Bucich (River Vale NJ), Carol Ceraso (Hauppauge), Rocco Citeno (Sayville), Donna Corvi (Montauk), Gráinne de Buitléar (Belle Terre), Lou Deutsch (Stony Brook), Michael Drakopoulos (Port Jefferson), Karin Dutra (Port Jefferson), Paul Jay Edelson (Poquott), Ellen Ferrigno (Port Jefferson), Dorothy Fortuna (Smithtown), Donna Gabusi (Smithtown), Jan Guarino (East Northport), Margaret Henning (Sayville), Libby Coker Hintz (Blue Point), Irene Ruddock (Stony Brook), James Kelson (Stony Brook), Lynn Kinsella (Brookhaven), John Koch (Port Jefferson Sta.), Lee Ann Lindgren (Breezy Point), Olivia Mathon (Smithtown), Eileen P. McGann (Island Park), Carissa Millett (Setauket), Hillary Serota Needle (Dix Hills), Loretta Oberheim (Ronkonkoma), Eileen W. Palmer (St. James), Catherine Rezin (Nesconset), Robert Roehrig (East Setauket), Lori Scarlatos (Saint James), Gia Schifano (New Hyde Park), Anita Schnirman (Kings Park), Faith Skelos (Smithtown), Paul Speh (Ronkonkoma), Mike Stanko (Valley Stream), Madeline Stare (Smithtown), Barbara Stein (Port Washington), Nicholas Valentino (North Babylon), M. Ellen Winter (Northport), Mary Jane van Zeijts (Stony Brook), Mary Waka (Ronkonkoma), Patty Yantz (Setauket) and Theodora Zavala (East Meadow)

The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present A Sense of Place from Feb. 20 to March 20. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Mask wearing is mandatory and social distancing protocols are strictly observed. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org. 

Yoga can improve balance and strength, which are risk factors for falls. METRO photo
Fear of falling can lead to greater risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Earlier in life, falls usually do not result in significant consequences. However, once we reach middle age, falls become more substantial. Even without icy steps and walkways, falls can be a serious concern for older patients, where consequences can be devastating. They can include brain injuries, hip fractures, a decrease in functional ability and a decline in physical and social activities (1). Ultimately, a fall can lead to loss of independence (2).

Contributors to fall risk

Many factors contribute to fall risk. A personal history of falling in the recent past is the most prevalent. But there are many other significant factors, such as age and medication use. Some medications, like antihypertensive medications used to treat high blood pressure and psychotropic medications used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia, are of particular concern. Chronic diseases can also contribute.

Circumstances that predispose us to falls also involve weakness in upper and lower body strength, decreased vision, hearing disorders and psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression (3).

Simple fall prevention tips

Of the utmost importance is exercise. But what do we mean by “exercise”? Exercises involving balance, strength, movement, flexibility and endurance all play significant roles in fall prevention (4).

Many of us in the Northeast are also low in vitamin D, which may strengthen muscle and bone. This is an easy fix with supplementation. Footwear also needs to be addressed. Nonslip shoes are crucial indoors, and outside in winter, footwear that prevents sliding on ice is a must. Inexpensive changes in the home, like securing area rugs, can also make a big difference.

Medication side-effects

There are a number of medications that may heighten fall risk. As I mentioned, psychotropic drugs top the list. But what other drugs might have an impact?

High blood pressure medications have been investigated. A propensity-matched sample study (a notch below a randomized control trial in terms of quality) showed an increase in fall risk in those who were taking high blood pressure medication (5). Those on moderate doses of blood pressure medication had the greatest risk of serious injuries from falls, a 40 percent increase.

While blood pressure medications may contribute to fall risk, they have significant benefits in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease and events. Thus, we need to weigh the risk-benefit ratio in older patients before considering stopping a medication. When it comes to treating high blood pressure, lifestyle modifications may also play a significant role in treating this disease (6).

How exercise helps

All exercise has value. A meta-analysis of a group of 17 trials showed that exercise significantly reduced the risk of a fall (7). If the categories are broken down, exercise led to a 37 percent reduction in falls that resulted in injury and a 30 percent reduction in those falls requiring medical attention. Even more impressive was a 61 percent reduction in fracture risk.

Remember, the lower the fracture risk, the more likely you are to remain physically independent. Thus, the author summarized that exercise not only helps to prevent falls but also fall injuries.

Unfortunately, those who have fallen before, even without injury, often develop a fear that causes them to limit their activities. This leads to a dangerous cycle of reduced balance and increased gait disorders, ultimately resulting in an increased risk of falling (8).

What types of exercise?

Tai chi, yoga and aquatic exercise have been shown to have benefits in preventing falls and injuries from falls.

A randomized controlled trial showed that those who did an aquatic exercise program had a significant improvement in the risk of falls (9). The aim of the aquatic exercise was to improve balance, strength and mobility. Results showed a reduction in the number of falls from a mean of 2.00 to a fraction of this level — a mean of 0.29. There was also a 44 percent decline in the number of exercising patients who fell during the six-month trial, with no change in the control group.

If you don’t have a pool available, Tai Chi, which requires no equipment, was also shown to reduce both fall risk and fear of falling in older adults in a randomized control trial of 60 male and female participants (10).

Another pilot study used modified chair yoga classes with a small assisted living population (11). Participants were those over 65 who had experienced a recent fall and had a resulting fear of falling. While the intention was to assess exercise safety, researchers found that participants had less reliance on assistive devices and three of the 16 participants were able to eliminate their use of mobility assistance devices.

Thus, our best line of defense against fall risk is prevention. Does this mean stopping medications? Not necessarily. But for those 65 and older, or for those who have arthritis and are at least 45 years old, it may mean reviewing your medication list with your doctor. Before considering changing your blood pressure medications, review the risk-to-benefit ratio with your physician.

References:

(1) MMWR. 2014; 63(17):379-383. (2) J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1998;53(2):M112. (3) JAMA. 1995;273(17):1348. (4) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;9:CD007146. (5) JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):588-595. (6) JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):577-587. (7) BMJ. 2013;347:f6234. (8) Age Ageing. 1997 May;26(3):189-193. (9) Menopause. 2013;20(10):1012-1019. (10) Mater Sociomed. 2018 Mar; 30(1): 38–42. (11) Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 146–150.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

METRO photo

Dress for Success Brookhaven & The Eastern Shore (NY) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated offers the following free Virtual Career Workshops for February: 

How to Find and Apply for a Job
Thursday, February 18 at 6 p.m.
Selecting the best website for your search
Resume preparation and application submission
How to respond to job opportunities
Space is limited
Organic Gardening Workshop
Wednesday, February 24 at 6 p.m.
The Town of Brookhaven in partnership with Ann Pellegrino,
Founder and Director of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach will
be hosting this fun and worthwhile workshop for gardeners of all levels.
Space is limited
Keys to a Strong Interview
Thursday February 25, at 6 p.m.
Virtual Interview Preparation
Skills and strategies for Virtual Interviews with Teresa Evans and Marie Desvarieux, MD
Teresa Evans

Teresa Evans

Senior Director, Head of Human Capital at United Way of New York City, NY
Parliamentarian & Chair of Resource Development of Eastern Shore (NY) Chapter of
The Links, Incorporated.
Maria Desvarieux, M.D.

Marie Desvarieux, MD

Cardiologist, Partner at Premiere Cardiology, LLC of Bayshore & Smithtown, NY
President of Eastern Shore (NY) Chapter of
The Links, Incorporated.
Space is limited
For more information, call 631-451-9127.

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site. Photo by Matthew Niegocki
Updated February 18, 2021
The COVID-19 testing site at Stony Brook University’s South P-lot will be closing at 1 p.m. on February 18 due to the snowstorm. There is an anticipated delayed opening Tomorrow, February 19 with timing yet to be determined.
For further updates and more information about Stony Brook’s coronavirus drive-through testing, click here.
New York State has partnered with Stony Brook University to provide drive-through testing for the coronavirus at Stony Brook University’s South P Lot off Stony Brook Road. Walk-ins are accepted, but appointments are strongly encouraged and can be made by phone at 888-364-3065 or online at covid19screening.health.ny.gov.

 

Beginning Sunday, February 14, the COVID-19 testing site at Stony Brook University’s South P-lot will be operating from 8 a.m. to noon  on Sundays.

Operating hours are now:
Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon.

Anyone who believes they’re at risk should call the Department of Health Hotline, 888-364-3065, and talk to experts to determine if and how they should be tested.

Test results are not provided by Stony Brook University Hospital. They can be obtained through BioReference at bioreference.com/patient-portal or by calling the New York State DOH Hotline at 888-364-3065.

Click here for a map and directions to the testing site.

Coronavirus Hotline

Updated January 8, 2021
For people who have questions about symptoms, testing, vaccines and more, Stony Brook Medicine’s coronavirus phone line is here as a resource for you:

Coronavirus Hotline
(631) 638-1320

Staffed by registered nurses, the hotline is available daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Callers will be evaluated and directed to the appropriate healthcare setting for assistance, as needed.

Image from The Atelier
Christian White

The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James continues its online webinar series with Nuts and Bolts of Color: Practical help on employing modern and traditional knowledge of color in painting, with artist Christian White on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

As a follow-up to his most recent lecture “Manet and Modernism” (viewable on the Atelier’s website), White will address color as a practical matter in painting, with some demonstration of approaches to pigments, mixing colors, and developing color composition and color harmony. He will attempt to show how the artists he spoke of as influences helped develop his use of color in both figurative and abstract ideas. Free. To register, visit www.theatelieratflowerfield.org and choose workshops/events. For more information, call 631-250-9009.

 

Jo Ann Havrilla in a scene from 'Stephen Wins the Olympics' with Stephen Colbert

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Dreams do come true. How terribly worthless and dull life would be if we didn’t aspire for something even though we might be surrounded by those voices of “reason” warning us to be practical. But sometimes that dream plays out in ways we never would have imagined.

Jo Ann Havrilla

Take acting for instance. What does it mean to be an “actress”? Is it someone walking the red carpet, cameras flashing, posing in a sequined Versace gown and dripping in Harry Winston diamonds? Is it making major motion pictures or bowing on a lavish Broadway stage to enthusiastic applause or being featured on a long-running television series?

There’s Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Viola Davis living the dream; all household names commanding oodles of money acquired from the wheelings and dealings of big-time agents securing Academy Award-worthy roles for them. But not all actresses luck out with this iconic recognition. In fact, most don’t “make it.”

“There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway” is an adage that holds much credence. Many come to the Great White Way in search of a life in the theater, but few receive the recognition that Lin-Manuel Miranda with his Hamilton has enjoyed. 

There are some actors who aren’t house-hold names, yet they manage to earn a living wage doing what they love.

Meet 70-year-old working actress, Jo Ann Havrilla, who grew up in Jericho. She pursued the dream refusing to give up. That persistence paid off with some major motion pictures, television, stage and commercials. What makes Havrilla stand out as a formidable presence is her greater than life upbeat nature, energetic persona and timing equal to that of Carol Burnett.

Hers is a life of perseverance. At 23 years of age, she moved from her family’s Jericho home to a studio apartment in Manhattan where she resides to this day with her husband, Brad Firminger.

She earned her equity card while in her early twenties and doors opened for professional stage work.

Jo Ann Havrilla in a scene from ‘Hairspray’

Havrilla’s ability to play characters of all ages, especially those much older than her years, landed her the role at age 38 of Prudence Pingleton, the overprotective mother of Tracy Turnblad’s friend, Penny, in John Waters’ 1988 cult classic film Hairspray. 

In 1989, Havrilla appeared as  Boolie Werthan’s loyal secretary, Miss McClatchey, in another classic film, Driving Miss Daisy, this time with the legends, Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. That same year she was in the Tom Selleck, James Farentino film, Her Alibi.

A role on the 1989-1990 television series True Blue followed the films. Other television credits include All My Children, One Life to Live and the Michael J. Fox series, Spin City. 

In 2004 Havrilla was featured in the comedic role of diner waitress Maxine  in the short film Sara Goes to Lunch which received recognition at the 2005 Fargo Film Festival.  

In 2010, Havrilla landed a role on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report opposite Stephen Colbert performing in a satirical skit titled “Stephen Wins the Olympics.” Havrilla played Colbert’s coach, Svetlana Oranskaya, strong as nails with a thick Russian accent. Her hysterical performance made the scene so successful that she was invited back during the 2014 Olympics to recreate Oranskaya. Hopefully, Colbert will resurrect Oranskaya during this coming summer’s Olympics. 

In 2018 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrated the 30th anniversary of the making of Hairspray by reuniting Havrilla and the cast with their director, John Waters, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. 

Much commercial work and personal speaking appearances keep her busy to date. Havrilla centers her talks on her lengthy career and what it was like working with some of the most prominent personalities in show business. She enjoys retelling how John Waters worked with a mere budget of 2 million dollars, making it imperative for the actors to nail the scenes on the first take. 

Havrilla knows she has been lucky though her name may not trip off your tongue. But look through magazines or newspapers and you just might see her inviting grin or watch the original 1988 Hairspray, Driving Miss Daisy or Her Alibi and see her doing what she loves best — being a working actress.

Her advice is don’t ever give up. Your dream may not materialize quite as you envision, but persistence pays off. Doors will open and opportunities will unfold. Believe in yourself and you can make dreams happen.

Postscript: Havrilla’s inspirational message of ‘never giving up’ happened in a dramatic way on January 26, 2021, when 48-year-old country singer/songwriter, Thad Cockrell debuted on The Tonight Show, getting a chance of a lifetime to perform his original song “Swingin” remotely with the Tonight Show band, The Roots. 

This story is as fantastic as it gets. Jimmy Fallon heard Cockrell’s anthem song while he was in  the local hardware store. The lyrics, with the motivating chorus “If I’m gonna go down, I wanna go down swinging,” so impressed Fallon that he invited Cockrell, who had been a struggling artist for decades, to perform his song on The Tonight Show. Cockrell’s album, If In Case You Feel the Same, released in 2020, hit number three on iTunes, shooting him to instant success.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”

Stock photo

By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: 

My mother died recently. Her will provides that I am the executor of her estate and directs that her estate is to be divided equally between me and my two siblings. In addition to her bank account and her home, my mother had an inherited IRA and a Roth IRA. My sister is the beneficiary on the inherited IRA and my brother is the beneficiary of the Roth IRA.

THE QUESTION:

Based upon my mother’s will, am I entitled to 1/3 of the assets in the IRAs?

THE ANSWER: 

The quick answer is NO. Regardless of whether it is a traditional IRA or a Roth, how the funds in an IRA are distributed upon the death of the account holder is governed by the beneficiary designation form associated with the account. A will only governs the distribution of probate assets which are assets that are owned individually by the decedent and are not subject to a beneficiary designation. The only time assets in an IRA would be subject to the terms of a will is if none of the people named on the beneficiary designation form associated with the IRA were alive at the time of the account holder’s death.

Unfortunately for you, unless your siblings chose to share some of the funds they receive from the IRAs with you, you are only entitled to 1/3 of your mother’s probate assets after all of her last expenses and the expenses of administering her estate are paid. 

Interestingly, even if the balance in each of the IRAs is the same, it is unlikely that your siblings will enjoy equal shares of your mother’s estate. While they are both entitled to a share of the probate estate that is equal to your share, your sister will have to pay income tax on the distributions she receives from the traditional IRA while your brother will receive all of the assets in the Roth IRA income tax free. 

If your mother wanted you all to share equally in her estate, she should have named all of you as equal beneficiaries on both of the IRAs. In the alternative, her attorney could have added language to her will that provided that the value of any non-probate assets passing to her children was to be taken into consideration when calculating the share of her probate assets passing to each of her children. If your mother’s will directed you to consider non-probate assets when distributing her probate estate, you would get a larger share of the probate assets to compensate for the fact that you were not named as a beneficiary on either of the IRAs. 

Although you are not entitled to funds in the IRAs, the fact that you are named as the executor of your mother’s estate entitles you to statutory commissions. Commissions are based on the value of the probate estate and can be significant. Oftentimes when a family member is the executor, he/she elects to not take commissions since doing so decreases the size of the estate that is distributed to the beneficiaries. 

However, if you feel strongly that your mother’s wish was that you received as much from her estate as your siblings, and your siblings do not feel inclined to share with you some of the non-probate assets they receive from the IRAs, you may want to consider taking commissions to help balance things out. 

The fact that your mother’s wishes may not be realized highlights the value of working with an experienced estate planning attorney and the importance of considering all of your assets when engaging in estate planning. If you do not take into consideration jointly held property and accounts, transfer on death designations, retirement plans and life insurance policies when engaging in estate planning, there is a good chance that your estate plan will not accurately reflect your wishes. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate administration, estate planning, real estate and small business services from her East Setauket office.  Call 631-444-5605 or vising her website at www.LMTOGALAW.com to schedule a consultation. 

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By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters encourages informed and active participation in government and thus prioritizes voter registration and getting out the vote. 

The 2020 elections had a record shattering turnout —  158,254,139 ballots were cast for President from 66.7% of eligible voters. Does this mean that we have achieved our goals or can look forward to even greater election participation and thus more representative government in the coming years? The answer is definitely no! Here’s why …

Many Americans believe that voting rights and laws are derived from the Constitution and federal law. That’s only partially true and mostly just for federal elections. Voters’ lives are much more affected by state election law, which as was seen in the 2020 election results. Add our (decennial) census and the absolute power (in most states) of the state legislature to “reapportion” Congressional and other district lines. You now have a recipe for institutional power monopolies; reducing the ability for voters to actually select their representatives (the elected officials choose their voters = gerrymandering) in free and fair elections. Many state legislatures have already introduced hundreds of new voter suppression laws aimed at decreasing voter turnout.

As residents of New York State, many of us were shocked to learn that our state voting laws and constitution are an anachronistic embarrassment. Other states had pioneered and proved the value and reliability and security of 100% mail-in voting, many days of early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots. In 2019 New Yorkers had our first early voting opportunities in a local election year with sparse turnout. 

Only a few months later, COVID lockdowns and quarantines changed everything. Governor Cuomo issued a state of emergency allowing him to issue many executive orders, some of which liberalized our election laws and processes. However, these need to be enacted as state law in order to be made permanent.

The Senate met in January to pass a package of absentee voting reforms and two constitutional amendments related to voting: 

Speeding Up the Absentee Ballot Counting Process: This bill, S.1027, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris, amends various provisions of the Election Law in order to allow for expedited review and canvassing of absentee ballots without compromising the integrity of elections.

Preventing Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters: This bill, S.253, sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair, Senator Zellnor Myrie, prohibits voiding absentee ballots on technicalities where intent of voters is clear and the law has been substantially complied with, including where there are stray marks or the ballot is undated but is time stamped by the Board of Elections.

Permanently Authorizing Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes: This bill, S.492, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, authorizes the Board of Elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off locations or drop-boxes to provide voters with a convenient and secure option for delivering their absentee ballots.

Increasing Transparency and Information about Absentee Ballots through a Tracking System: This bill, S.1028, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, ensures that all voters in the state have access to absentee ballot tracking by requiring the New York State Board of Elections to create a statewide absentee ballot tracking system for absentee voters to ensure that their vote is counted in the election while allowing counties and the New York City Board of Elections to also maintain their own absentee tracking systems.

Implementing Permanent Authorization for Applying for Absentee Ballots Online: This bill, S.632, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson, permanently allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online and allows absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day by making permanent Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020. Under current Election Law, applications may only be made by mail or fax.

Creating Accountability for Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.516, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, establishes mandatory timeframes for processing of absentee ballot applications and ballots by Boards of Elections based on when the application was received.

Enabling Earlier Applications for Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.631, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, permits Boards of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications earlier than thirty days before the applicable Election Day by making permanent Chapter 138 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020.

Ensuring Voters Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.264, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie, sets deadline for absentee ballot applications sent by mail to 15 days before the election, up from 7 days, to better allow for voters timely receiving their absentee ballots.

No-Excuse Absentee Voting Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.360, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, amends the State Constitution to allow for any voter to vote by absentee without an excuse.*

Same-day Voter Registration Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.517, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, removes 10 day deadline to submit registration.*

*Both constitutional amendments were passed by the Senate and Assembly in the last session but are also required to be passed by both houses during this session. If they are passed again they will be placed on the ballot in November as voter referendums.

At this time we are unsure when the Assembly will be taking up these reforms. In the last three legislative sessions, the Senate has made election reform one of their early priority issues. The Assembly typically does not take up these bills until after the state budget has passed. (Note: Gov. Cuomo submitted the budget in late January, the 2021 fiscal year starts April 1.)

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.