Last night on the Golden Globes, Rosamund Pike won “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy” for her portrayal of Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who defrauds her elderly clients using loopholes in the US guardian/conservatorship system, in the Netflix movie “I Care a Lot.”
“If we delivered this story on this subject matter in a way that tugged at the heart string and was told from the victim’s point of view, it would be unbearably difficult to watch,” Pike said in a recent interview. “We took this subject matter and flipped it. So, yes, we go on this fun, seductive ride, which is fun and funny, but we also get to get angry at the same time. I’m open to the debate whether this is a comedy or not.”
I watched the movie about a week or so ago, and I don’t remember one LOL moment. In fact, it freaked me out, because as far as I know, I don’t have a Russian mobster family to protect me (but I do remember my dad telling me about a Russian great-great-great-great grandfather who was a rabbi. … although I don’t feel any safer knowing that).
Unfortunately, there are some scary examples of guardianship/conservatorship fraud, and you don’t have to be elderly to become a victim. Just look at the ongoing struggle Britney Spears has been facing in court battles to stop, or at least limit her father’s 13-year legal conservatorship that removed her control over her finances, career, and well-being. If Britney can’t win, how can we expect to protect our anonymous, financially modest, sometimes disenfranchised elderly?
The day after I watched the movie, I contacted the Florida State Guardianship Association. I figured if ANY place was familiar with elderly guardianship it was Florida in which 1/4 of the state’s population is age 60 or older. Evidently, they were well prepared for my query and sent me this white paper from the National Guardianship Association (NGA), written in preparation of the release of “I Care a Lot.”
Guardians “follow a code of ethics and statutory guidelines, caring for individuals and managing their property after they have been deemed incapable of doing so,” the paper states. “Typically, our clients have serious chronic mental illness, dementia, a developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.” These clients are evaluated by licensed mental health professionals, physicians and others with the ultimate goal of ending guardianship whenever possible. And the paper goes on to give examples of wards who have regained their independence.
I truly believe the NGA is “leading the way to excellence in guardianship” through its mission to establish and promote nationally recognized standards, encourage the highest levels of integrity and competence through guardianship education, and protect the interests of guardians and people in their care. However, despite the NGA’s intentions, the best laid codes aren’t always followed, and people can still find ways to take advantage of the system and the wards in their care. (In her acceptance speech last night, Pike thanked “America’s broken legal system for making it possible to make stories like this.”)
Here’s just a few examples of how guardianship can go wrong:
- Former CFO Gets 20-Year Sentence in Guardianship Fraud Case
- The System Of Court-Appointed Guardians Continues To Fail The Elderly
- Guardianship In The U.S.: Protection Or Exploitation?
- Florida tried to fix guardianship system. Rebecca Fierle case reveals it’s still broken, critics say
This is a conversation that has been gaining volume, and Pike’s award will hopefully bring even greater awareness to the situation. If you have ANY concerns about guardianship fraud, contact:
Adult Protective Services in your area (these differ by state)
And learn more from:
The National Center on Law and Elder Rights (See paper here, “When the Guardian is an Abuser”) and The National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse.