Elder Law and Conservatorships – I Care A Lot: Reality Inspired Fiction
When it comes to elder care law, sometimes truth is as strange – or at least almost as strange – as fiction…
I wouldn’t have known about the Netflix movie entitled I Care A Lot, were it not for several friends who called to ask me questions after watching it. While the film put unrealistic fears into my friends’ minds, there is some truth to the underlying story. I watched the film and can tell you that the basics of the story are loosely based on fact.
In the film, a con woman makes a very lucrative living as a court-appointed guardian who seizes control of all the assets of vulnerable elderly people. According to a review at RogerEbert.com, the film, by writer/director J. Blakeson, was inspired by real-life stories he read about and became enraged by in which predatory guardians took advantage of voiceless elderly victims.
Let Me Separate Fact From Fiction
One of the biggest shocks in the movie is that the ward, a healthy and fully competent woman, was never placed on notice of the pending petition until the Guardian showed up at the home with the signed Order of Guardianship to place her into an institution. This is the biggest sensationalized inaccuracy and I want to put minds at ease by separating fact from fiction.
There are a series of notifications and confirmations that are followed before a Georgia court will appoint a guardian to manage the health and safety of the ward – or a conservator to handle the financial, assets, and contractual affairs of the ward. First, there are three main conditions that a Court looks for to merit Guardianship or Conservatorship:
- The person has advanced mental incapacity (i.e. Alzheimer’s, dementia, traumatic closed-head injury, coma, etc.): Or
- Developmentally disable person turns 18; Or
- The person displays diminished capacity – often in several different areas of their life (i.e. financial exploitation risk; poor hygiene; unable to make/communicate important life choices; unable to recognize danger; unable to seek assistance when in position of harm; suffering from a mental illness; unable to understand consequences of actions, etc.)
Next, once the Petition for Guardianship and/or Conservatorship is filed with the Court and before the Court will issue an Order, the Court ensures:
- The proposed ward is informed of the petition
- The proposed ward is given an opportunity to hire an attorney or one will be appointed by the court; and
- The proposed ward will undergo a mental evaluation by a doctor, psychologist, or licensed social worker.
I will acknowledge that sometimes greedy and ruthless persons are appointed as Guardians or Conservators, though there are procedures that are meant to prevent that from happening, yet it sometimes still does. This is especially true if there are no relatives or friends involved to be active advocates for the best interest of the ward to serve as the Guardian or Conservator. However, if the incapacitated person planned ahead and signed durable powers of attorney for finances and health care, that person won’t need a Guardian nor a Conservator because the person named in those documents can take charge.
Prepare For Reality, Enjoy The Outrage Expressed In The Fictional Movie
If you have a loved one living alone or in a nursing home facility, I highly recommend you take an evening to watch this dark, disturbing comedy. It is about the vast, invasive powers that a Guardian/Conservator can exert over their ward (who may be a total stranger). But remember, it is fiction based on fact.
While the film takes an unexpected turn, it is an illustration of what could happen to someone who has not planned ahead – especially someone who has no living relatives and has not planned ahead. If you would like to discuss creating a plan for your healthcare and financial needs should you become incapacitated, give our office a call. We’ve been helping families and individuals avoid the worst possible scenarios that happen when plans are not in place.