The 2021 Netflix movie, I Care A Lot, dramatically exposes a gruesome example of guardianship scams. The main character, played by Rosamund Pike, is a woman who runs a guardianship business with the intention of scamming elderly people out of their estates. She works with doctors and other healthcare professionals to find “cherries” – elderly people who are aging alone and are helpless or incapacitated. They fabricate documents and falsify medical records to present to a judge as “emergency” situations in which immediate guardianship is necessary. Although she uses these people for their money for her own profit, the judge who oversees the cases is seemingly either in on the scam or is genuinely being fooled by her caring demeanor.
This movie highlights the importance of getting your own will and estate planning done. Where you have not established an estate plan and made clear your intent relative to your own care and the disposition of your assets, and you become incapacitated, the court can appoint professional guardians and conservators.
Even if you do not have family or close friends that you would trust to make decisions on your behalf and to whom you would want your assets to go, you have the ability to participate in the process with early planning. Perhaps it is a charity, or someone who impacted your life. You, rather than a court appointed person who knows nothing about you and the things and people you care about, can make that choice by creating a proper estate plan.
While the movie is an extremely dramatized work of fiction, these kinds of scams are real and, sadly, there are many real-life horror stories about elderly people who were taken advantage of by their court-appointed guardians. Once guardianship is imposed, restoring your personal autonomy and leaving the guardianship is extraordinarily difficult.
Although guardianship is usually a last resort and it may be scary to think about, it is wholly avoidable. The important takeaway is that it is never too early to start thinking about estate planning and, while it can be a difficult conversation, it is ultimately better that you have a say in safeguarding your estate.