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Guardianship: Netflix Vs. Reality

Guardianship: Netflix Vs. Reality
7 minutes
Kristina Beavers
This is a poster for the film I Care a Lot. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the item promoted, Netflix, the publisher of the item promoted or the graphic artist.

There’s a Rosamund Pike movie on Netflix, “I Care a Lot” about a fraudster who runs a guardianship service. It’s a hilarious, albeit dark movie that takes the very real world concept of Guardianships to fantastical ends. 

Can the court decide on your behalf that you can no longer take care of yourself? Yes. 

Can the court appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf? Yes. 

Once a court puts a guardian in place, will you no longer be able to make decisions like where or how to live? Yes. 

These three things are a reality in every state of America, including Virginia. But this is where the movie stops being realistic. 

Picked from the crowd

In this movie, the fraudster finds her victims through an arrangement with a local doctor. This is illegal for lots of reasons, including HIPAA violations. In the real world, the court will only become aware of someone in need of guardianship because a concerned party will ask for help. 

In some cases this is a stranger who notices an elderly person living alone, like a mailman or something. But the vast majority of times, it’s a known concerned loved one. Like a family member or a church member or something like that. 

Stealing all Valuables

In the movie, immediately upon being granted Guardianship, the fraudster takes the woman to an elder care facility and then starts stripping her home of valuables. This is clearly a fantastical portrayal that is done in swift cinematic fashion. 

In some states, the Guardian has control over both the ‘body’ and the ‘finances’ of the person.  In Virginia, there are two separate roles that can be appointed.  The Guardian has control over the ‘body’ of the person, while the Conservator has control over the finances and assets of the person.

Most of the time, one person is appointed as both Guardian and Conservator.  However, it is possible that there can be two separate people appointed.

If you are appointed by the court as a Conservator over another person you have the ability and responsibility of all financial decisions.  Also, in Virginia, you will need to account to the local Commissioner of Accounts about every cent that is paid, so you should not ever be able to just ‘steal’ someone’s money.  Of course, you may be able to charge a fee for your services as a Conservator, but the Commissioner of Accounts must approve those fees.  And yes, the Commissioner of Accounts can petition the Circuit Court to have legal, and possible criminal, action taken against anyone who mis-uses funds.

The Journey Continues

And from there this movie gets into truly outlandish situations that have zero resemblance to reality. So we’ll stop the comparison. But let’s go over some practical implications of how a Guardianship can work in the BEST possible scenario. 

Guardianship as a Planned Component of a Holistic Estate Plan

At its core, a great Estate Plan considers all the possible outcomes. Both good and bad. This means considering the possibility that you or your loved one might become incapable of caring for themselves. 

There is no need to wait until a person needs a Guardian before putting a plan in place. There is no need to wait for a court to decide who is best suited to care for you or a loved one. If you plan early, you can execute a Power of Attorney that names a person of your choice as the decision-maker. That’s where your power lies. 

Planning for the Life Well Lived

We sincerely hope that you are capable of living your very best life, for every single day of your life. We have clients that are driving into their 90s and perfectly capable of staying at home caring for themselves until the very end. And we love that. Of course we do. But it would be a disservice for us to ignore the very real possibility that things can take a turn for the worse at any time. 

So if you or a loved one is ready to grapple with end of life possibilities, let’s work together to make them as close to your ideal as possible. 

Can you choose who will make decisions for you? Yes, within reason. You can’t choose your dog Max as your future Guardian, but you can decide that your neighbor, who has known you and been close to you for fifty years, is a better person to make decisions for you than your child who left home at the age of 18 and has not returned since. Working with an Estate Lawyer is ideal for helping you make this decision because they are an objective third party.

So while the movie, “I Care a Lot” is not a true depiction of Guardianships, it does bring this topic mainstream. For the record, I really enjoyed the movie though it does have strong language. I would post the trailer but my daughter claims watching the trailer ruins the movie.

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