Life is fleeting, but the information on a death certificate crystallizes certain information for time immemorial. Truthful reporting of the information contained in the death certificate is, therefore, critical if the record is to be true and correct. Why does it matter? Because the personal information included in a death certificate is the basis for rights and responsibilities under New York laws relating to inheritance and the descent and distribution of property.

A death in New York generally must be registered immediately and not later than seventy-two hours after the death. It is generally the funeral director who, in compliance with the Public Health Law, is responsible for providing to the Department of Health the personal information regarding each person who dies in New York. The funeral director relies on the Informant to provide the “personal particulars” about the person who has died. The personal information that the funeral director needs to know is:

  1. Name of Person who died
  2. Aliases or AKAs
  3. Date of Birth
  4. Social Security Number
  5. Address
  6. Usual Occupation (type of work done during most of working life (not “retired”)
  7. Kind of business or industry
  8. Birthplace (City & State or Foreign Country)
  9. Education (highest degree or level of school completed at the time of death)
  10. Armed Forces service
  11. Marital/Partnership Status at time of death
  12. Surviving Spouse’s/Partner’s Name (if wife, first, middle and last name prior to first marriage)
  13. Father’s first, middle and last name
  14. Mother’s first, middle and last name prior to first marriage
  15. Informant’s name and address
  16. Informant’s relationship to decedent

It is a misdemeanor under New York Law to “refuse or fail to furnish correctly any information in his possession, or … furnish false information affecting” a death certificate.

Are you the right person to be the Informant?
The Informant should be someone who truly knows the answers to the relevant questions about the decedent and will provide truthful and accurate information. Consider these points:

  • If the person was married, the Informant should know whether the decedent was really still legally married at the time of death. For example, the Informant should not indicate that the decedent was divorced if the individual was merely separated. A decedent might also still be considered legally married if the decedent was in the process of getting divorced.
  • If the Informant believes that the person who died was “like a father” to Sally, the Informant should not list Sally as a daughter.
  • If the person who died treated the Informant like his “brother,” the Informant should not list his relationship to the decedent as his brother. Similarly, if the Informant is a stepson, the Information should not list himself as a “son.”

If in doubt – don’t guess. Precision counts. Find out the correct answers before responding to a funeral director’s questions.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) assists low-income New Yorkers with matters pertaining to Wills & Estates. If you reside in New York City, please call the PELP intake line at (212) 382-6756 to see if you are eligible for assistance.

Pamela Ehrenkranz is Chair of the Attorney Panel of the Planning & Estates Law Project.

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Alidia D. came to the legal clinic crying, “My little son is wasting away. He won’t eat the shelter food. When we entered this shelter his weight was at the 50th percentile, and now it has dropped to the 5th percentile. He is anemic.” She handed her pro bono attorney a letter from the child’s pediatrician that expressed deep concern about the toddler’s growth and development while in shelter.

The attorney was able to get the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to transfer the young mother and child to a shelter where she could cook him child-friendly healthy meals. However, the episode made Lisa Pearlstein, Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless (LCH), wonder how many other children refused to eat food served in New York City shelters and how that was impacting their health.

Pearlstein began asking LCH clients questions about their food experiences. She learned that at the intake site for families entering shelter, the City provides the same non-nutritious cold meat sandwich to children and adults for both lunch and dinner. Families can spend days at this office. Families placed in certain hotels were also served this same cold sandwich for months at every meal.

Furthermore, the pro bono lawyers under Pearlstein’s supervision had spent hours advocating for a restaurant allowance for their clients who reside in shelters that lack cooking facilities. The City’s welfare agency had no systematic way of ensuring that this special food allowance was added to the public assistance case of a household entering such a facility.

When Pearlstein learned that Barbara Turk, the Mayor’s Director of Food Policy, was speaking at a meeting of advocates about reducing hunger, she jumped at the chance to raise these issues with Turk. Turk was receptive, stating “All these issues are under my jurisdiction, and we must address them.” She called over a DHS administrator attending the meeting to hear Pearlstein’s concerns. After the meeting and follow-up communications between Pearlstein and DHS, the City convened “Partners to Improve Food Resources for DHS Clients.”

At the first meeting of the group on April 12, 2016, DHS announced it was hiring a nutritionist to guide the agency and its vendors in meal planning. The agency also announced its decision to diversify the cold meals served at the homeless family intake site and its commitment to begin serving child-friendly meals. DHS has also provided the welfare agency with an accurate list of non-cooking facilities to ensure the provision of restaurant allowance to all eligible households.

As soon as it is logistically feasible, DHS will begin to ask applicants for shelter about their family’s nutritional needs to ensure that households are placed in appropriate shelters that can accommodate these needs. For shelters that serve meals, DHS is reinforcing that bagged meals must be provided to residents who miss meals due to employment or other obligations.

The Partners will also explore options to bring healthy foods and vegetables to shelters in areas where it is difficult for shelter residents to access healthy affordable food. Hopefully, food options for homeless New Yorkers will continue to improve.

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City Bar Justice Center

Thank you to our outstanding Gala supporters, who joined together on April 13, 2016 to celebrate pro bono and help sustain the work of the City Bar Justice Center.




Davis Polk & Wardwell

 Jenner & Block


Paul Weiss



Sullivan Cromwell





21st Century Fox
Arnold & Porter LLP
Barclays Bank
BNY Paribas
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
Citigroup Inc.
Dechert LLP
DLA Piper LLP (US)
Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Hogan Lovells US LLP
Joseph Hage Aaronson LLC
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
Latham & Watkins LLP
Linklaters LLP
Mayer Brown LLP
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP
Reed Smith LLP
Shearman & Sterling LLP
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Sony Corporation of America
Tiger Baron Foundation
Venable LLP

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On April 13th, the City Bar Justice Center’s 11th Annual Gala will honor the international law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and global media corporation CBS with the 2016 City Bar Justice Awards, for their leadership and dedication to pro bono and public service.

This year’s gala has raised over $1 million to support the Justice Center’s work in protecting the rights of over 20,000 New Yorkers each year who cannot afford legal assistance. Through pro bono legal representation, know-your-rights presentations, clinics targeting specific legal needs, and the largest free civil legal hotline in New York, the Justice Center provides more than $18 million worth of legal assistance each year.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher demonstrates exemplary commitment to serving the poor and vulnerable through its pro bono work in immigration with the Justice Center’s Refugee Assistance Project, and the firm has successfully secured asylum for over 30 people fleeing persecution from all over the world.

CBS Corporation is actively engaged in public service throughout all of its divisions, and the CBS Law Department’s partnership with the Justice Center deploys CBS attorneys to assist low-income veterans with disability benefits claims through the Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project and clients in financial distress through the Consumer Bankruptcy Project.

“It is a privilege to honor CBS and Willkie for their commitment to bridging the justice gap for the underserved. Their choice to use their legal resources for the good of the community sets a great example for our profession,” said Debra Raskin, President of the New York City Bar Association, who, along with Jane Sherburne, Chair of the City Bar Fund Board, will present the awards.

The event sponsors this year include leading New York law firms and companies including Barclays; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Debevoise & Plimpton; Citigroup; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison; Pfizer; Sony and past honoree Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, among dozens of others.

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City Bar Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly and former City Bar Executive Director Barbara Berger Opotowsky share the details of their recent trips to Guantánamo Bay in a New York Law Journal essay.

As NGO observers from the New York City Bar Association’s Military Affairs and Justice Committee, Kelly and Opotowsky viewed pretrial proceedings  in 9/11 cases in which the U.S. government is seeking the death penalty. The essay describes the government’s strict monitoring measures at Guantánamo and the outlook for the legal processes:

“Our report on the current status of these death penalty proceedings can be summarized as follows: ongoing delay and proliferation of pretrial motions with no trial in sight, a decade after the prisoners were moved to Guantánamo.”

Read the full essay here:


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Many veterans suffer from an injury or disease that is linked to an event that occurred during their time in service, thus making these veterans eligible for service-connected disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Figuring out how to establish that link—or nexus—from ailment to service can be a mystifying task for veterans and individuals unfamiliar with veterans law.

In the fourth episode of the Veterans’ Legal Series, Veterans Assistance Project Director Kent Eiler clearly outlines five ways to establish service connection:

If you are a veteran residing in New York City and need help with VA benefits, please call 212-382-4722 or visit the Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project web page.

Click here to view all episodes in the Veterans’ Legal Series, a video resource on VA benefits.

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The City Bar Justice Center has released a nine-month report on the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project, a collaboration with the United States District Court for the Eastern District and the first office dedicated to providing advice, limited-scope legal assistance, and information to people proceeding pro se in a variety of federal civil cases in New York.

Since March 2015, the pilot project has operated out of an office in the Eastern District’s Brooklyn courthouse with access to the resources of the City Bar Justice Center, including supervision, malpractice insurance, computer equipment, a cloud-based case management system, support on client counseling and legal issues and a wide pro bono network.

Since launch, the Project has provided limited-scope legal assistance, advice or consultation in nearly 300 matters to low-income litigants and prospective litigants on a range of federal civil issues.

“The Eastern District of New York is proud to have created the first program in New York to provide a legal assistance office at the federal courthouse staffed with an experienced attorney,” said Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin praised the court for increasing access to free legal advice for low-income litigants with federal cases. “Federal litigation is very rule-driven and complicated for non-lawyers,” she said. “This project is an important step to aid people in figuring out which court to file their case in and how to develop or defend their case.”

The Project’s director is Nancy Rosenbloom, an experienced civil rights litigator. Several large law firms have contributed volunteer attorneys to augment the office several mornings a week, and Fordham Law School’s Stein Center has a team of students working at the Project this Spring.

Cases at the Project have ranged from employment discrimination and other civil rights matters to small business disputes and mortgage foreclosure actions. The Project has provided brief services—including review of papers, research, drafting assistance, strategy discussion, and other advice and counsel—to 148 clients, and advice-only to 46. The Project has advised and referred 76 litigants to nonprofit legal services providers, the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service and/or pro bono counsel.

The Project receives referrals from judges, the Court Clerk’s office and word of mouth, and has received positive feedback from court personnel as well as clients. Regarding the ways in which the Project’s assistance was most helpful (with the option to check multiple boxes), 83% of client survey respondents emphasized receiving answers to their legal questions, and 83% also stated that the assistance relieved some of the stress and/or anxiety they felt about their legal issues. When asked “What was the most helpful thing the City Bar Justice Center did for you?” client responses included:

  • “They listen to your issues!”
  • “Assisting me with writing legal responses to defendant’s counsel. Thank you.”
  • “Empathizing with the sensitive issue at hand.”
  • “Very professional.”
  • “[I received] help writing a response letter.”
  • “It would be an injustice to say this or that was the most helpful thing City Bar Justice Center did for me. City Bar was helpful in many ways. I was helped with discovery, settlement, and ramifications of doing this as opposed to that. I guess the most helpful thing was just being available to get complex and often vexing questions answered.”
  • I cannot put into words how much I appreciate your help, and your time. You’re a true asset to the little people like me, trying to be heard in a foreign setting. I am so grateful to have met you. And grateful for your pro se project.

The report can be read here:


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The City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC) has released a report examining how legal services have helped clients change their lives. For the report, the IWC interviewed a sample of 50 current and former IWC clients, all of whom are survivors of trafficking.

The report affirms that receiving legal services is key to help­ing survivors of trafficking pursue their dreams of education, gainful employ­ment, and family reunification where possible. The report outlines the types of legal services provided, current immigration status, and the number of clients that pursued education after receiving IWC’s assistance, among other data.

IWC assists low-income survivors of violent crimes, including inti­mate-partner violence, trafficking, sexual assault, child abuse, and hate crimes. IWC represents adults and children in immigration matters with the goal of promoting better access to safety, stability, and self-sufficiency.

The report may be viewed here.

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From the time she was five years old, Miriam (not her real name), a Nigerian victim of human trafficking, lived with an aunt’s family where she was mistreated and abused, especially by an older cousin. In 2003, when she was 27 years old, that cousin and her husband took Miriam to New York with them where she worked as an unpaid, badly treated domestic servant, caring for their children, cleaning their house, and cooking their meals.  Although she was permitted to leave the house, Miriam had no legal status, no money of her own, no identification, and lived with the constant threat of deportation by her cousin if she talked about her situation to outsiders. Miriam felt imprisoned and remained subservient.  The cousin forced Miriam to take jobs outside the home but confiscated her paychecks. As the cousin’s psychological and physical abuse increased, Miriam began to be fearful for her life.

In 2011, Miriam learned that her cousin was planning to send her back to Nigeria to force her to marry, and with the assistance of an acquaintance she had met at one of her jobs, Miriam finally fled.  That same friend helped connect her to the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC), which assisted her in reporting her trafficking to law enforcement and applying for and obtaining lawful immigration status in the United States as a human trafficking victim.

IWC’s work for Miriam did not end there.  Having identified potential legal remedies for obtaining compensation for the unpaid work that Miriam had performed as a trafficking victim, as well as for the paychecks that her cousin had stolen from her, IWC joined forces with pro bono lawyers at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, to bring a federal civil lawsuit against Miriam’s cousin and her husband.  In August 2012, Greenberg Traurig filed a complaint on Miriam’s behalf in the Eastern District of New York, which alleged, among other claims, violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act, false imprisonment, conversion, and assault and battery.  After completing discovery, Greenberg Traurig successfully defeated a motion for summary judgment brought by the defendants.  In December 2015, shortly before trial was scheduled to begin, the case was settled.

Miriam is now successfully living on her own, working full-time as a home health aide, and is in the process of applying for permanent residency in the United States.  IWC Director Suzanne Tomatore reports that “Miriam is now safe, self-sufficient, and free from exploitation. The team at Greenberg Traurig worked tirelessly to help her get a settlement that will allow her to save money for her future.”  That team includes Greenberg Traurig attorneys Daniel Clarkson, Meghan Newcomer, Sean Berens, and Julia Rogawski, as well as former Greenberg Traurig shareholder William Silverman (now a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP).

The Immigrant Women & Children Project has been assisting survivors of human trafficking and other violent, gender-based crimes with civil legal assistance since 2002.  As evidenced by Miriam’s case, IWC’s partnership with pro bono attorneys is essential to helping survivors of trafficking access justice so that they can begin rebuilding their lives.

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In this third installment of the Veterans’ Legal Series from the City Bar Justice Center, Veterans Assistance Project Director Kent Eiler discusses how the VA evaluates the degree of disability of a service-connected injury or disease. After the VA determines a veteran is eligible to receive (and qualifies for) disability compensation, Kent explains the next step in the VA’s process in which it determines the severity of the disability and assigns a percentage evaluation, from 0 to 100, based on the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities.  See more at:

Click here to view all episodes in the Veterans’ Legal Series, and stay tuned for more additions.

Veterans who reside in New York City: For free help with VA benefits for low-income veterans residing in NYC, please call 212-382-4722 or visit the Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project web page.

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