Is the New Netflix Movie “I Care A Lot” Realistic About Guardianship?

Q. I just watched “I Care A Lot” on Netflix and it was certainly eye-opening. In the story, a shady legal guardian, Marla Grayson, abuses the system by targeting wards that don’t really need her, places them in care facilities, and then assumes control of their assets. I was outraged that such a thing could happen and was wondering if it happens to this extent in real life or is it exaggerated for the movie?

The movie also struck a chord with me because my cousins were considering a professional guardian for my aunt. What are some alternatives they should consider instead?

A. Thanks for your question. I also recently watched the film “I Care A Lot” on Netflix and can understand your concern. Sadly, while there may be some some Marla Grayson types in this world(see, as a possible example, this recent article about guardianships gone wrong in New Mexico), fortunately the type of evil-minded fraudulent scheme depicted by the movie is rare, and luckily there are usually much better alternatives to guardianship for people such as your cousins and your aunt.

What Happened in “I Care A Lot”?

The film, “I Care A Lot,” follows con artist Marla Grayson (played by Golden Globe winning actress, Rosamund Pike), a woman who makes her illicit living using the legal system to essentially kidnap seniors, place them in a nursing home, and then sell off all their assets for her own profit. The big mistake mistake she makes in the movie is kidnapping the wrong senior, which is what happens when she runs her scam on Jennifer Peterson (played by actress Dianne Wiest), the mother of Russian mob boss Roman Lunyov (actor Peter Dinklage). Marla and Roman try to defeat each other until the film’s conclusion when they realize they don’t need to hurt each other; they can profit from each other instead.

The guardianship storyline in this movie is a shocking scenario that no doubt will leave most of us wondering if this is something that really happens. And, the answer is yes, sadly, it apparently does in some areas of the country. Although Marla Grayson is a fictional character, people like her do exist. One example is April Parks, a former Nevada legal guardian who pled guilty to six felonies, including two counts of elder exploitation. Parks owned a professional guardian company and had hundreds of clients, whom she legally entrapped through court hearings. Parks went to jail, but left many of her victims committed to facilities, severely over-medicated, and trapped in the faulty guardianship system forever. Read more about her in my article, “Her Parents Were Kidnapped by a Professional Guardian.” Please see all our articles on Guardianship for more real-life examples.

The Film’s Writer/Director Explains his Research

J Blakeson wrote (and directed) “I Care a Lot” after he was inspired by real news stories of professional guardians in America and a “legal loophole” they exploited. According to Blakeson, “It started when I saw news stories about real-life predatory guardians who game the system and exploit their wards. It’s true to life in the fact that there are lots of these predatory guardians who do pray on vulnerable and elderly people, and sort of entrap them in these guardianships and basically sort of strip their life apart. The true-life stories of it are really quite harrowing and horrifying so unfortunately, yeah, it does happen.”

Blakeson had no idea that Guardianship situations could be so bad. “I was horrified. Imagine opening your door one day and there is a person standing there holding a piece of paper that gives them total legal power over you.” He added, “This provided a lot of themes that interested me, like ambition, the American Dream, and humans becoming commodities. So, the story started there. I sat and wrote it on my own and very quickly it formed into what is now “I Care a Lot.”

Blakeson didn’t intend for “I Care a Lot” to be an expose on Guardianship scams. Rather, he wanted the film to serve as an example of what could happen in a world where you have the utmost trust in the people you already know – or think you know.

Don’t Let the Same Thing Happen to You!

Guardianship and conservatorship are extreme forms of intervention in another person’s life because control over personal and/or financial decisions is transferred to someone else for an indefinite, often permanent period of time.  Once established, as you can see from the movie and the real-life experiences I have written about, it can be difficult to revoke. Therefore, guardianship and conservatorship should only be used as a last resort. There are times when a person might need a guardian or conservator, but can be served in a less restrictive way.  Here are some alternatives:

A Durable General Power of Attorney authorizes your Agent, sometimes called an Attorney-in-Fact, to act on your behalf and sign your name to financial and/or legal documents. The Financial Power of Attorney is an essential tool in the event that, due to age, illness, or injury, you are unable to carry on your legal and financial affairs.  Having a Financial Power of Attorney will generally avoid the need to go through the time-consuming, expensive, and publicly embarrassing process whereby someone has to go to court to have you declared mentally or physically incompetent and then one or more persons need to be appointed to serve as your legal guardian and/or conservator, which process is subject to ongoing court supervision.

An Advance Medical Directive, incorporating a Medical Power of Attorney, authorizes another person (called your “Medical Agent”or “health care surrogate”), to make decisions with respect to your medical care in the event that you are physically or mentally unable to do so, usually as certified by two physicians.

Living Trust is a legal entity which is capable of owning financial assets, real estate, and/or other property. A living trust is a trust that comes into existence during your lifetime. The main feature of a living trust is that the trustee is not accountable to the court, and therefore not subject to probate. A conservator, on the other hand, is accountable to the court and subject to ongoing probate for the life of the ward. Most people therefore use a living trust as their primary estate planning tool in order to make things easier for their trusted loved ones by avoiding the time and cost and complications of probate.

Considering a Power of Attorney? Just this week, a happy child of a client wrote a Google review about his Power of Attorney experience at the Farr Law Firm:

“Outstanding support, professionalism, technical expertise. I came to Farr Law Firm after taking in my father unexpectedly. Elder law was an area I was unfamiliar with, but I had to get spun up rather quickly. After reviewing several different law firms’ websites and reading reviews I engaged Evan and his team. Evan quickly advised that we should get a power of attorney (POA) in place quickly.  Based on his advice, we moved forward and executed the POA. I’ve seen other POAs that are nothing more than generalized boilerplate documents that lack detail. The POA I have from Farr Law Firm is nothing of this sort. It covers virtually anything and everything you could encounter when taking care of another person.  With my POA, I’ve had to sell vehicles, work with insurance companies, open and close accounts, work with the social security administration, execute legal instruments, sell a house, and even appeared before a bankruptcy court – this was a bit of a shock to the judge who hadn’t seen a POA used in a bankruptcy for a long time.  The judge voiced this openly in the courtroom, reviewed the POA to see if it contained all of the items needed and determined I could move forward.  In all of these tasks the most important item for me was that my father didn’t have to be involved and suffer going through the mental motions of trying to understand what was happening while attempting to answer questions he couldn’t remember the answers to. Navigating life, there are a few technical experts you need on your side as your transition the various stages of life – a good accountant, financial/retirement planner, doctor, and elder care attorney. When you go with Farr Law Firm, you can definitely check that one off the list because you’ll have [one of] the best in the business on your side.”

Do You Have a Power of Attorney or Other Incapacity Planning Documents in Place?

If you have not done a Power of Attorney, now is the time to get it done as part of a comprehensive Incapacity Plan which includes an Advance Medical Directive and Long-term Care Directive®, or as part of a comprehensive Estate Plan which includes an Incapacity Plan and a living trust to avoid after-death probate. Please contact us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Power of Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Power of Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Power of Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Power of Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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