Sunday, March 7

‘99% of the world has no idea’: inside the shocking industry of legal guardianship | Film

“METERand mother: I should be able to watch it whenever I want, ”a man pleads with a judge at the start of Netflix’s eye-catching new movie, I Care a Lot. “You don’t need to be in a care facility, you don’t need a court appointed guardian. She has a loving son who takes care of her. I just don’t understand how the court can entrust my mother to this stranger. “

Increasingly anguished as he watches the cold Marla Grayson, played by Rosamund Pike, pleads: “Miss Grayson forced my mother into the house when she made it very clear that she did not want to go and now she is auctioned at my mother’s house. , her car, her personal belongings, and uses the proceeds to pay for herself. And now Miss Grayson prevented me from seeing my mother. It’s a fucking nightmare. You kidnapped my mother! “

The movie is fiction, but the story is all too familiar to thousands of Americans whose elderly parents have been caught with little scrutiny. guardianship programs. Many speak of a sense of powerlessness in the face of a system plagued with abuse, neglect and exploitation for profit of vulnerable people.

The opening scene of I care a lot, for example, would strike a chord Doug franks. When he and his brother Charles couldn’t agree on where their 89-year-old mother Ernestine should live, the dispute prompted a judge to appoint a guardianship firm to take over her care. It was the beginning of a four-year nightmare.

Franks, whose visits to her were limited to a few hours at a time, recalls: “They would go out and buy foods like a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for my mom. He needed to have a heart-healthy diet and he wasn’t on one, so he was consuming foods that were actually causing him to disappear sooner than they should. “

Guardianship describes a legal relationship created by a court between a guardian (a family member or professional) and a person who is generally elderly and is considered to have a diminished capacity. Guardians wield extraordinary power, often deciding where that person should live, how much access family members should have, when to seek health care, and how to spend their retirement savings.

An estimated 1.3 million adults are under the care of guardians who control about $ 50 billion of their assets. The poorly understood system has long suffered from a lack of oversight, transparency, and basic protections.

Karen Buck, executive director of the SeniorLAW Center in Pennsylvania, said: “It’s the state coming in and taking away your most fundamental decisions, your fundamental right to autonomy, and giving those decisions to someone else who may be a total stranger to you. So it’s a very drastic measure and it just doesn’t get as much attention until there is a crisis and a scandal. “

This is a reflection on how older people are not valued in America, Buck added. “Most of the people under guardianship are elderly and in this country historically we have not valued the lives of the elderly, we have not valued their medical care enough, we have not valued their long-term care enough, we have not valued their independence and their contributions ”.

At I Care a Lot, Grayson is a court-appointed unscrupulous legal guardian who defrauds his older clients and traps them in his care. She divides the world between predators and prey with herself firmly in the first category. Although the film, co-starring Peter Dinklage and Eiza González, soon ventures into delightfully unlikely territory of dark suspense, its initial premise is grounded in stark reality.

Sam Sugar, founder of the organization Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, says: “I’ve seen progress and accurately describes what a tutor does and how they act with absolute impunity and cheeky, cold and carefree at all, as long as they win and that winning means they get the money from the person they are protect.

Rebecca Fierle-Santoian had 450 guardianships when she resigned amid a criminal investigation.
Rebecca Fierle-Santoian had 450 guardianships when she resigned amid a criminal investigation. Photograph: AP

“It is an amazing phenomenon. I was surprised when I found out 10 years ago and 99% of the United States, 99% of the world, have no idea how dangerous it is and how easy it is for anyone to get caught up in it. “

He pointed out the case of Rebecca Fierle-Santoian who, at some point had 450 guardianships in Florida, was arrested last year on abuse and neglect charges following the death of a 74-year-old man under her guardianship in Tampa. A local law enforcement agency said it had obtained an order to cap the man’s feeding tube, ignoring doctors who told it this would likely cause his death.

Sugar, author of Guardianship and the elderly: the perfect crime and one of the sharpest criticisms of the system, continues: “What happens in these cases is to litigate, isolate, seize the property, incinerate. In other words, the attorneys identify, or have identified for themselves, a potential victim, go to the judge, and the judge begins the process of evaluating someone’s disability. Everything is done in secret; no one shares the information.

“The affected person or their family have little or no warning that this is happening and, when they realize it, it is too late to hire an attorney. The whole system is based on one thing and that is the transfer of wealth. Nobody in the judicial system cares about the older person and if he tries to fight that system, he will be ruined. “

He adds: “The elderly are stripped of their rights: every penny, every asset, every holding, every account. Everything is under the control of a tutor who is neither supervised nor supervised “.

However, the issue has received much less attention than child abuse. It is notorious that accurate data is difficult to obtain. Each of the 50 states has its own system, court records are often sealed, and there is a lack of standardized reporting. In Nevada, for example, the situation used to be “pretty dire,” recalls Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Southern Nevada Legal Aid Center.

“We had a for-profit guardian who took advantage of individuals and families through predatory behavior,” he says. “She would knock on people’s doors and say that now there is a guardianship in place and I am their guardian and she proceeds to take them out of her beautiful house, sell all their memories and put them in a horrible place, isolate them.

Rosamund Pike in I Care A Lot
Rosamund Pike in I Care A Lot Photograph: Seacia Paul / AP

“And then when family members found out, they challenged it and the guardian’s attorney was very astute. They said, ‘Oh well, this family member has an anger problem or a drug problem.’ And somehow they would make it appear that they were the just, the neutral, the ones who were not to blame. “

In 2015, the Nevada Supreme Court created a guardianship commission to examine the guardianship system and introduce reforms. One is that when someone files a guardianship, a non-profit legal advisor is appointed for the proposed protected person, who has a say in choosing their guardian and what the rules are.

Buckley says, “That’s our office and the key to the charter is that it’s independent. We are not paid with inheritance. We have no vested interest in it being prolonged or having our own financial motive and we operate on the principles that we believe that the proposed protected person has rights. Just because someone is under guardianship does not mean that they should not be able to control key aspects of their own care. Someone does not become a piece of furniture. “

In I Care a Lot, Grayson places an elderly woman in a nursing home and is soon denied her mobile phone or even the right to go outside for fresh air. Her irate resistance to imprisonment is seen as proof that she is unstable and poses a risk to herself and others.

Franks, however, finally win his mother’s freedom after pressuring officials who testified at numerous hearings, though he says more than $ 200,000 had been withdrawn from his trust fund by then, in part to pay for his guardian’s attorneys.

“She was terribly shocked but got over it,” says the 63-year-old from Acworth, Georgia. “I had to give him an enema and he had a social worker there. Doing something like that for your mom is like, ‘Jesus, I really don’t want to do this,’ I had to do it, whatever it took. I got it to be regular. That’s how much he loved her and how much he didn’t want her to suffer and these people didn’t give a shit. “

Franks, a technology consultant who continues promote guardianship reforms, He is thrilled to remember how he was born with dyslexia and his mother went out of her way to help him after school. “For something like this to happen to him and for me not to fight was not an option.

“She was never going to stop until I released her and did. I released her and had the opportunity to be with her for 45 days of freedom and she died in my arms. That day was one of the best we have ever had. We laughed and joked and I was able to tell her that I loved her and that everything would be fine. He was about two weeks away from being 95. “

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