I just watched British screenwriter and director J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot on Netflix about an unethical court appointed guardian. Not only am I in the process of writing a screenplay about guardianship, I’ve worked in the field and I am a guardian for my adult disabled daughter. I’m not an expert but I do know something about the process.
But first, I wanna complain about the British’isms in this made-as-a-social-commentary-about-a-capitalist-United States. The script refers to Care Homes and we do not have “care homes” in the US, we have nursing homes, or assisted-living facilities. Also,no one in the United States says whilst. I know, we should. But that’s a long forgotten word in the US. Am I being petty? Sure. So sue me.
This is not a documentary but there were things in the movie that we’re accurate and things that were glossed over. I worked for a guardianship agency that had 600 or so clients. Precious few attended their court hearing. I’ve never done the math on this, but I would imagine about half of the clients had a family member show up to court. In the United States guardianship is facilitated differently in different Jurisdictions. In the state I live in guardianship is handled through probate court. To address a judge in a Guardianship court you need to be an attorney. Unless you are specifically asked to speak to the judge, you are quiet.
There are many ways people end up with guardians. In my daughters case I contacted an attorney who represented me to file a petition. The court then assigned my daughter a guardian ad litem who was responsible for researching me, talking to my daughter, talking to family members and serving as my daughters representation in court. My daughter is intellectually a five-year-old and thanks to years and years of special education, dozens of medical professionals who have seen her, police intervention and other such documentation it was fairly easy for me to become guardian for my daughter.
In order for somebody to have a court appointed guardian, they must be considered an incapacitated adult. That requires documentation from a medical professional of some sort. If a family member is found that is willing and able to serve as a guardian that is always preferable, but there are many reasons that an agency will fill that position. I had no clients as capable as Diane Weist was in the movie.
The clients I worked with had major mental health issues, dementia, intellectual disability or other medical issues like traumatic brain injury. I had clients who were found living on living on the street, under an overpass, and usually both physically and mentally ill. Agencies get clients who have dementia and do things like leave their condominiums at 3am to look for their dog that has been dead for 12 years. Sometimes agencies get the developmentally delayed individual living with someone who they had called “mama” their whole life and was was not really their mother but had agreed to care for them after their actual mother had dropped them off in 1947.
By the nature of their disabilities, most people who need guardians are very poor however, especially with older clients, money can be involved . And unfortunately very much like in this movie, usually very rapidly after a guardianship hearing, the guardian will go through a house to look for valuables, sometimes have an estate sale and then list the house. The agency that I worked for used several trusted realtors. And in that case we would have been appointed not only guardian but conservator. Each state has a bunch of different rules governing how to sell property. It isn’t really a free-for-all but it can appear that way.
Because a guardian is often responsible for moving somebody (usually from an apartment or a home to a either assisted living facility or to a nursing home), we would be responsible for inventorying the home. I’ve dealt with many people who were hoarders, or pet collectors. Once a colleague found a large amount of cash stored in the back of a dirty closet in paper bags. Another time a colleague and I found a small collection of passports doing an inventory, yes we had to get the FBI involved. It was a very very interesting job.
Sometimes family members do not get along. If there’s a lot of fighting about what they’re going to do with their mom or dad who, let’s say have dementia, a court will happily appoint a third party subjective agency to make decisions for them. Now having been that third-party subjective person I am always supposed to take the individuals family‘s wishes into consideration. However if they are not agreeing with one another or if one person is particularly hard to deal with as a case manager I pretty much unilaterally had carte blanche to cut people out from the decision making.
One part of the movie that was 💯 involved the angry son Mr. Feldstrom (played by Macon Blair). I have had my tires flattened, been threatened and made my fare share of 911 calls due to irate people. Sometimes family members are kept from seeing relatives due to a history of physical abuse or financial exploitation which would have to be very well documented. But lots of times people are restricted by the facility because they are disruptive when visiting.
The guardianship process is expensive. People wishing to take guardianship of their loved one can spend $4-$5000 in attorney and filing fees. If there is a substantial amount of money involved, the price could be more and sometimes people have to get trust established which is not a cheap endeavor either.
Also worth mentioning is that the “care home“ that was in this movie would probably cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 a month. As an agency is often put in the unfortunate position of putting people in nice places like the one in the movie until their money runs out. MediCARE does not pay for long-term care facilities, these facilities are private pay only. Medicaid will pay for long-term care but they are not comfortable facilities like the one in the movie. I highly encourage you to find a long-term care Medicaid facility and just go take a tour if you can get one. It’s eye opening and not just from the smell. Honestly though I cannot fault these facilities because they are being asked to do an impossible job. To keep two, three and sometimes four people in the same room that have complicated medical histories and oftentimes don’t like each other. We are not set up to live like that in our old age.
Even worse are facilities that take people with mental illness. I have seen things like duct taped floors, couches with stuffing coming out of them, ceilings that literally leaked water. The way we treat poor individuals with mental illness in this country is truly unbelievable.
If I had to do guardianship over again for my daughter I’m not sure that I would’ve done it. It was expensive. I have reporting duties every year with the department of social services and I probably could’ve covered all of everything I’ve ever needed to do for her with a good durable power of attorney for health care.
As America gets older these issues of guardianship, estate planning and affordable housing for seniors are going to be front and center. Capitalism isn’t very good at solving these issues because unlike in this movie there isn’t a lot of money to be made working in guardianship. The work is left to religious agencies which often aren’t a good fit for our secular society.
My sincere advice to all of you is to make a Will and if you have any investments, get your beneficiaries up-to-date and if it all possible make things payable on death. Better yet, don’t worry about leaving money to others. I don’t see the point in saving as much as you possibly can only to turn it over to a $10,000 a month assisted living facility. It’s no way to live your life.