Lenza Law Firm, PLLC-Estate Planning, Elder Law and Medicaid Planning- Staten Island » Lenza Law Firm, PLLC is estate planning and elder law firm with a focus is Elder Law, Probate, Estate Administration, Estate Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection in Staten Island, New York. Lenza Law Firm, PLLC Island,is dedicated solely to offering legal advice in estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, Nursing Home and estate administration matters


We’ve all been there- your neighbor has been a little bit lax in trimming their trees and maybe the branches are starting to overhand your property. Maybe that same neighbor is working on a home improvement project and is using a small corner or your property to store some lumber for a few weeks without asking. While rude, such encroachments are small, sometimes temporary, and are frequently overlooked as nuisances or simply disregarded in the spirit of neighborliness. A lot of times, absent some delineation, homeowners are generally unaware of the exact location of the boundary, and for the most part, that is all well and good. If this is you, you likely will throw a wave and a smile now and then when you see the neighbor and life marches on.

What if, however, the issue is more serious? What if the neighbor has been using part of your property (unbeknownst to you) for a decade for his shed? Or has planted part of his tomato garden on your property? This could be a huge headache! More and more I’m seeing these issues come through the office, and it brought me to write this post to clarify some misconceptions.

The first thing to do when you are on either side of these issues is not to panic and act aggressively towards the neighbor. Take a deep breath. The underlying goal is to try to understand the everyone’s position and come to a resolution that works for everyone. Most times the facts are not in dispute, and it is a simple matter of one party or another, either intentionally or negligently encroaching onto the neighbor’s parcel. If for example it’s a wood fence post, or a portion of a PVC shed, the encroachment can often be removed at little cost, that is usually the best course, as it permanently resolves the issue. If the encroachment is not movable, or it is very expensive to remove the encroachment, there are basically two different approaches.

The first approach is to rework the boundary line so that the encroaching party “acquires” some of the burdened property’s land, rendering the “encroachment” no longer encroaching. The civilized way to do this is by agreement, with the encroaching party, in most cases, bearing the costs of the surveying, any legal fees associated with a boundary line rearrangement, etc. In layman’s terms, you could just tell your neighbor ……..”It’s 3 feet in my back corner go ahead and take it.”

Note, in this case, unless there is an actual boundary line rearrangement with a deed recorded in the clerk’s office, the tax map parcel will not show any change in bulk acreage between the two lots. This is a complicated and expensive process to have attorneys fix this. Here is where this gets even messier as there would be no change in the real estate taxes, which is something to think about. Into perpetuity, the party granting the property to their neighbor would be paying taxes on a small piece of property that they don’t own.

Occasionally, although rarely, there is a true disagreement on the location of the boundary line. This can occur as a result of old maps and descriptions being used, and a genuine professional disagreement between surveyors as to the true location of the properties that were deeded to the adjoining neighbors.

In the event that you and your neighbor are not able to peaceably resolve, with appropriate counsel, the boundary line issue, litigation can be maintained by one party or the other. A frequent topic in a boundary line dispute discussion is whether the encroaching party has acquired title to the land underneath the encroachment by what is known as “adverse possession”. The sorts of acts which must be proven to established title by adverse possession vary widely, but is generally stated that the adverse possessor must openly, continuously, exclusively, adversely and notoriously possess his or her neighbor’s property for more than ten years in order to acquire title. Recently, the statute governing adverse possession in New York was amended to provide that “de minimus” encroachments such as fences, sheds, gardens, plantings and the like, would, under most circumstances, be considered “permissive” and thus not “adverse”. Thus, your neighbor’s garden or lilac hedge on your backyard is not, under the new statute, giving your neighbor ownership of any part of your backyard. Similarly, lawn mowing, installing a typical fence or a portable shed or other such structure will not, under the new statute, give your neighbor rights to your property.

There is still somewhat of an argument about acts of possession which the new statute deems “permissive” but which took place over a ten year period prior to the enactment of the recent statute in 2008.

Adverse possession cases can be expensive to litigate, involving professional surveyor testimony and many aspects of factual proof which need to be researched and presented. Before embarking on an adverse possession litigation, either as a plaintiff or defendant, it is essential to consider the costs and legal fees and expert fees, as well as personal stress and effort, as compared with what is to be gained or lost in the possible outcomes. It is possible that one or the other party may have to resort to a title insurance policy for indemnification and/or payment of counsel fees to either prosecute or defend a title claim.

If you are purchasing a property with such an issue, you also may run into title insurance and liability issues.

As you can see from the above, it is best to consult an experienced practitioner familiar with these sorts of disputes. If your neighbor does the same thing, in almost every instance the matter can be worked out to a point where the result of that arrangement is far better than the result of years of contested litigation.

59f9ca4e9d2ac.imageI’ve received many calls and e-mails from clients about whether there is a need to address pre-existing estate plans in the wake of the new changes that were recently signed into law by President Trump. While for most clients no changes will be necessary there are important things to consider.

Under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act most taxpayers “will never pay a federal estate tax,” however with the expanded exemption many reasons exist to engage in estate planning.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increases the federal estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemptions to $10 million (indexed for inflation) per person beginning on Jan. 1, 2018. Remember that this is NOT a “per couple” exemption, as a married husband and wife this amount is $20 million per couple (again indexed for inflation).

The exemptions are scheduled to sunset effective Jan. 1, 2026, with reversion to current federal law. Of course, possible repeal of the tax law in a subsequent Congress is always on the table, so please keep abreast of any changes that occur and if you have any questions our staff here at Lenza Law Firm, PLLC will be happy to answer any appropriate questions.

But as the law stands now, high-net-worth clients and their advisors should pay close attention to the following areas:

  • Estate planning.  As always, Trusts can provide protection from creditors and divorcing spouses and provide control over how beneficiaries inherit wealth (particularly important for families with spendthrift, mental illness and addiction considerations) and help preserve wealth for generations. it is always important to communicate with your planner about properties held out of state, as some states do have specific estate tax and inheritance tax rules.
  • Portability election. As mentioned above, he portability election, which allows a surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s unused federal estate and gift tax exemption, is unchanged. This means a married couple can use the full $20 million exemption (indexed for inflation).
  • Estate tax exposure. For very high net-worth clients who will still have federal estate tax exposure and clients who live or own property in states with their own estate tax, the traditional wealth transfer strategies will still be useful. Clients will want to review their federal estate tax exposure under the new rules.
  • Basis step-up at death. The step-up in tax cost, by which a decedent’s assets obtain a step-up in their tax cost to their fair market value at the date of death, is not changed. With the step-up in tax cost retained and a much higher federal estate tax exemption, income tax planning becomes a much more important element in estate planning and estate administration.
  • Annual exclusion gifts. Individuals will want to consider whether making gifts during their lifetimes is the right tax planning strategy for them. The gift tax annual exclusion amount is $15,000. The gift tax annual exclusion amount remains subject to an inflation adjustment.

So from this practitioner’s humble perspective, in terms of Estate Planning this new law has not changed any of the important strategies and tools used to preserve wealth and ensure the efficient transfer of assets post death and has in fact added an entire new class of people who can utilize some strategies (those with net worth between 10 and 21 million dollars). It is important to note that all laws are subject to repeal and adjustment, so keep an eye in the future on how Congress and the Executive branch handle these issues in the next 5-10 years.


I am proud to announce that I have been granted the absolute honor to be appointed as a Board Member for the Staten Island Center for Independent Living, located here in Staten Island. Through my work with this organization I will  join with those in our community who are strong advocates for the independent living of the disabled population of Staten Island.  For information on this great organization visit The SICIL Website by clicking here

What is Independent Living?

The History of the Independent Living Movement and it’s importance today.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the emerging philosophy of independent living led people with disabilities from around the country to take active roles on local, state, and national levels in shaping decisions on issues affecting their lives. A major part of these activities involved formation of community-based groups of people with different types of disabilities who worked together to identify barriers and gaps in service delivery. To address barriers, action plans were developed to educate the community and to influence policy makers at all levels to change regulations and to introduce barrier-removing legislature. To address gaps in services, a new method of service delivery was conceived–one which emphasizes the role of people with disabilities in determining kinds of services essential to living independently, directing the delivery of these services, and actually providing these services.

The earliest center was formed in 1972 in Berkeley, California, soon followed that same year by centers in Boston and Houston. In 1978, following effective advocacy by people with disabilities and their supporters all over the country, federal legislation was passed that provided funding to establish independent living centers (Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act). Today, there are centers in virtually every state and U.S. territory. In fact, there are 37 Centers in New York State alone.

Independent living is about CHOICE and equal opportunity. We all have the right to make our own decisions -about working, housing, learning, and having fun. People with disabilities have had to struggle for that right-for centuries others thought they knew what was best for them and how they should live. And until the group joined together as a civil rights movement, few people thought of removing barriers-in buildings, in print, in speaking, in attitudes- so that the disabled would have the same OPTIONS as everyone else.



The Staten Island Center for Independent Living, Inc., is a non-residential resource center that offers services to individuals with disabilities of all ages, their families, significant others, teachers, employers, businesses, and those who believe that an individual with a disability has the right to take responsibility for his/her own life.

The center is unique in that it is primarily staffed and governed by professionals who have had a personal experience with a disability and believe that disability does not mean inability. Our services include:



The center has joined other agencies in lobbying for legislation that assists individuals with disabilities. Some of its successes are: The Americans with Disabilities Act; Local Law 59 and the Telecommunications Act.

The Work Incentive Act, Guide Dog Regulations, and Handicapped Parking laws have been enacted this year as a result of our advocacy.

We are about to join with the New York Consortium of Independent Living Centers in New York City and disability advocates throughout the country to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A workshop focusing on transition from school to work for disabled students and a torch ceremony that will include the five boroughs will be two of many celebrations that will occur this year.


Architectural Barrier Consultation

The center assists consumers in making their homes and work places accessible. It has also consulted with Snug Harbor, senior citizens residences, architects, builders, etc.


Benefits Advisement

The center assists consumers in their attempts to receive Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Discounts on utilities, Veterans benefits, etc.

This year it was awarded a contract with the Human Resources Administration titled PRIDE 2000 that assists welfare beneficiaries with disabilities in leaving the welfare roles, finding benefits that will assist them in returning to work with the skills that are needed to give them independence and responsibility.



The center offers personal, peer, individual, and group counseling. Currently there are two groups that meet on a weekly basis. These groups are composed of consumers with a variety of disabilities.

We run a Support/Educational Group for Women with Disabilities that focuses on teaching these women how to identify, prevent, and escape abuse/abusive situations. The group meets once a week for 1 1/2 hours and addresses topics such as the 17 signs of an abusive personality, definitions of abuse focusing on disability-related abuse and coping/healing skills that survivors can implement when handling/leaving an abusive relationship.

We also run a Health and Wellness Group for Women with Disabilities which features topics such as healthy eating habits and individualized exercise plans. The importance of taking charge of one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is also discussed. The role of vitamins, minerals, and medications in the lives of women with disabilities are covered as well.

These groups are open to women 21 years of age and over with all types of disabilities. It must be noted that these are support and educational groups and not therapeutic groups. If interested, call Michelle at (718) 720-9016.


Housing Assistance

The center attempts to find affordable and accessible housing. It is a member of the Inter-agency Council for the Aging, Councilman Oddo’s Round Table on Housing Issues and was awarded a contract with the office of Housing Preservation and Development to assist individuals in completing applications; assisting at the Housing Court; advising builders of local laws related to the building code; and testifying at hearings about the housing needs of individuals with disabilities.


Transportation Assistance

The center offers limited transportation to the center, other agencies, the Elizabeth Connelly Pool, shopping centers, etc.

It also assists consumers in completing applications for Access-A-ride and Half Fare discounts.


Independent Living Skills

The center offers training in banking, budgeting, cooking, grooming, health, and nutrition. Several board members including Jane Milza, (Food Editor of the S.I. Advance), have conducted classes for disabled consumers.


Community Education

The Executive Director and board members have made presentations to a number of civic organizations, students (with and without disabilities), educators, businessmen and women, and other agency directors.


Transition Services

The staff of SICIL participate in meetings of the NYC Board of Education Transition Linkage groups that plans and analyzes services offered to students with disabilities who are about to graduate and enter the adult world, work, or higher education.

The emotional trauma of an unexpected death often includes a range of financial and legal issues which require timely attention.

It is difficult enough for family members to handle the emotional trauma of a death, let alone taking the steps necessary to get these matters in order.

First, you should secure the tangible personal assets, which means all the things that you can touch such as collectibles, dishes, furniture or artwork as the one who executes or represent the will.

It is more important for you and your family to have time to mourn. Bills which needs payment and other financial matters can wait either a week or two without any real aftermath.

You should meet with a lawyer when you are ready but not almost too late to know the steps necessary to do to organize the will. The exact rules of estate planning differ from state to state, the key actions include:

  • FILE THE WILL – In order to get appointed as executor, you should file the will and petition in probate court.
  • COLLECT ASSETS – Find out about everything the deceased owned and file a list of inventory with the court.
  • PAY BILLS AND TAXES – File an estate tax return due within nine months of the date of death.
  • DISTRIBUTE PROPERTY TO HEIRS – When the period for creditors to make claims is still on the process, executors do not pay out all the estate assets.
  • Lastly, file an account with the court containing all the list of income to the estate since the date of death and all the expenses and distributions of the said estate.

Some of the steps might be avoided through trusts or joint ownership arrangements, whoever is in charge is responsible for payment of all the debts, file tax returns and distribute the property to the rightful heirs.