Bay Ridge

Lawyers’ book ‘5@55’ tells how to plan for future

Their advice: Have legal documents in place for emergencies

July 6, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Authors Judith D. Grimaldi (left) and Joanne Seminara (right) at their book launch party at Borough Hall with Councilmember Vincent Gentile and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Photo by Georgine Benvenuto
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Judith D. Grimaldi and Joanne Seminara have something in common with the Boy Scouts of America. Like the Boy Scouts, “Be Prepared” could be their motto.

The two women, who are lawyers specializing in elder law and estate planning, have written a book, “5@55: The 5 Essential Legal Documents You Need by Age 55,” to offer advice on how to prepare for any eventuality. Pierre Lehu, a writer and public relations representative, worked with Grimaldi and Seminara on the book.

Published by Quill Driver Books, “5@55” offers a step-by-step guide to readers on the necessity of having five documents — a will, a health care proxy, a living will, a power of attorney and a digital diary — in place so that if catastrophe strikes, a person’s wishes can still be carried out.

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The goal is to appoint a trusted person to carry out your wishes in the event you become incapacitated and cannot make key life and health decisions yourself, according to the writers.

The writers offer numerous cautionary tales, such as stories of clients they have served (names have been changed) who did not have a health care proxy or any of the other documents and whose families were forced to make hard decisions and suffered additional stress as a result.

During an interview in the Bay Ridge offices of Grimaldi & Yeung LLP, a law firm founded by Grimaldi and Pauline Yeung and where Seminara is counsel, the two women talked about their reasons for writing “5@55.”

“Our motivation for the book was conversations we have had with seniors over the years,” Grimaldi told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“Decision-making is serious and stressful. It’s much more stressful if preparations haven’t been made. Taking the time to do it now reduces the stress later on,” Seminara told the Eagle.

The idea of lying in a coma unable to communicate is not something the average person wants to think about. Nor is the idea of dying.  But Grimaldi and Seminara said people can find peace of mind when they address the possibility of these issues.

“Our goal is to make people feel comfortable dealing with certain issues,” Seminara said.

Each chapter describes a legal document and offers advice on what to consider when contemplating having one drawn up by a lawyer. Digital diary, a relatively new term, is a document that authorizes a designated representative to gain access to your online accounts, including bank accounts and social networking sites.

Despite the serious subject matter, “5@55” is not a depressing book. Grimaldi and Seminara said they worked hard, with Lehu’s help, to make the book an enjoyable read.  “It’s not written in a legal language. We wanted to make it approachable,” Seminara said. Lehu is Seminara’s husband.

The writers were feted at a book launch party at the Borough Hall Rotunda. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex expert, was among those who attended the party and praised the book. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) presented Grimaldi and Seminara with proclamations.

Why do Grimaldi and Seminara point to 55 as the age by which documents should be drawn up? It’s because it is a turning point for many people, according to Grimaldi.

She explained that 55 is the age at which the Social Security Administration declares that Americans become eligible for disability benefits. Another reason is that for many Americans, their children are grown and have flown the nest at age 55.

“With the children on their own, people start to think of themselves, their lives and their futures,” Grimaldi said. “It’s also a time when health issues start to happen. Our body is talking to us.”

Grimaldi and Seminara said they hope 55 becomes the age in which people go to get their legal documents completed just as 40 has become the age when women start to get their yearly mammograms.

Both Seminara and Grimaldi are graduates of Brooklyn Law School, both live in Bay Ridge with their families and both have long histories as community leaders.

Seminara is a founding member of the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Associations. She is a member of Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights), a former president of the Bay Ridge Forum and is a member of NYU Lutheran Medical Center’s Investigative Review Board. Seminara is also involved in politics. She is the Democratic district leader of the 64th Assembly District (Bay Ridge-parts of Staten Island).

Grimaldi is also a founding member of the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Associations and is a member of Community Board 10, where she served for several years as chairman of the Senior Issues Committee and is currently working on the development of a Bay Ridge age-friendly Improvement District. Grimaldi is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and is the immediate past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

The book “5@55” is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other places where books are sold.


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