For anyone who is a regular Netflix junkie, you’ve probably watched, or at least seen the trailer for the movie “I Care A Lot”. So, it begs the question: Could Netflix’s “I Care A Lot” Really Happen? In this eerie tale, a devilish legally-appointed guardian, played by Rosamund Pike, takes advantage of vulnerable and family-less elderly, forcing them out of their homes, seizing their assets and draining their savings. However, she meets her match in her latest victim, Jennifer Peterson, played by Dianne Wiest.
Of course we were appalled when we watched it, thinking “Who on earth would treat people like this?!?!” To see the very people that are supposed to protect us—physicians, legal guardians and nursing home/assisted living directors — abusing the system for their own gain was disturbing and disheartening. The bigger question is… could this really happen?!?!?!
The New Yorker, in a 2017 article, reported about a Nevada legal guardian that pled guilty to elder exploitation and left hundreds of clients trapped in the same situation the movie depicted. In fact, the writer and director of the film, J. Blakeson, is said to have developed the idea based on true stories he’d heard in the media.
At The Nursing Team, we’d like to think this could NEVER happen. So we decided to consult local attorney Russell A. Fracassa (Rusty) from Path’s Elder Law based in Lee’s Summit, MO.
(Path’s Elder Law provides legal expertise focusing on Wills, Trusts, Medicaid, Guardianships, and Asset Protection for Seniors and Veterans.)
All states are different, but in Missouri, we can do ’emergency guardianships’ and we have ‘public administrators’ which are the same type of role played by the main character.” said Fracassa. “However, the respondent (the elderly person) by law is appointed an attorney by the court and the respondent can also hire a private attorney. They did not depict either scenario in the movie. And before any proceedings, the judge will always ask either the appointed or the retained attorney if they have had an opportunity to speak with their client, which was also not portrayed.” Legally, the proceeding cannot move forward unless at least those two provisions have been met.
Fracassa goes on to say “They took a LOT of artistic license in that movie. It would be very rare for this to happen. At first I thought ‘This is a JOKE.’ but after talking through it, there are some rare instances where this situation could be a reality.” he admitted.
How? Here are a couple of observations:
- It’s more likely to happen in a small town.
Why? Because the people involved in the legal system in small towns and counties know each other well, played football together in high school and their kids go to the same schools they’re more likely to agree on decisions that might raise an eyebrow or two or may not fly in a larger metro area where the involved parties don’t have such close relationships and there is a much more competitive environment to earn “seats on the bench.” Additionally, smaller towns may only have one nursing home and fewer physicians which give people fewer options.
- People with money and assets typically have family involved.
Finding a vulnerable elderly person with assets substantial enough to warrant illegal shenanigans is probably not the easiest victim to find. Even elderly people who own a home typically have someone looking out for them. If we’re being honest, it’s more likely to be a family member that would seize assets deceptively than a stranger from the legal system.
- Maintaining good relationships with family and creating Durable Powers of Attorney is key to protecting yourself.
Fracassa stressed the importance of getting a Durable Power of Attorney in place BEFORE it’s even needed. “I think a lot of it comes down to maintaining deep and meaningful relationships.” says Fracassa “If you have people in your life, they will look out for you and be your natural advocates.”
- If you’re going to use a professional fiduciary, verify that they are bonded.
In other words, if you are going to use a financial advisor or other individual as your fiduciary, a bond will offer a form of insurance that assures the trustee will not take advantage of or neglect the situation.
For more information on guardianships, see this article at Path’s Elder Law.
At The Nursing Team, we work closely with families to make sure loved ones are taken care of. If you need help keeping your loved one safe, cared for and happy, call us for a free consultation at 816.282.6998. We are dedicated to transforming stressful caregiving situations into ones of JOY!