Art Imitates Life – Inside the Insidious World of Elder Guardianships

Given that this is a crime and justice column it is pretty safe to say this will likely be the only time I do a movie review.

But given the subject matter of the new movie, I Care A Lot this film is right up my alley.

As long-time readers may remember I have frequently written about the nationwide evils of exploitative elder guardianships and that is the world so descriptively depicted in this new Netflix offering.

Actress Rosamund Pike portrays Marla Grayson, a diabolic, self-dealing guardian appointed by a judge to manage the lives of elderly people he has found to be “incapacitated.” What leads him to believe that these seniors cannot manage their own homes, medical care and finances? The guardian has filed a petition with the court declaring that to be the truth and, as happens in real life, this movie judge simply accepts that this officer of the court is telling the truth.

Free photo from: Flickr | License details
Creator: nicolas nadjar | 
Credit: nicolasjoseschirado
Remember Judges Start & Perpetuate Guardianships

I found a myriad of actual cases, nationwide, in which that original petition for guardianship was grossly exaggerated and in some cases completely fabricated. But once a judge accepts such a petition and the senior becomes a “ward of the court” it is next to impossible to undo. Guardians, often paid hundreds of dollars an hour, and those they hire on to attend to the elderly are paid for out of the ward’s life savings. It is a cottage industry of elder law attorneys, guardians, caregivers, real estate agents and others who feast on the spoils of the ward’s life after guardianship takes hold.

Actress Pike so accurately embodies the reprehensible behavior of unscrupulous guardians that I found myself remembering real life court appointees who have employed the same tactics.  Targeting a wealthy, lonely elder who needs no (or minimal) care, quickly placing them in a nursing home, selling their house and all possessions and using every dirty legal machination they can to sink their claws deeper into their prey.  If the elder person (or their family) reacts negatively the guardian tells the judge there is danger afoot and more restrictions are put in place. Wards are often locked away from their family and over mediated to keep them docile.

I’ve seen all these things happen in guardian cases from Florida to California, from New Mexico to Maine and lots of states in between. This stuff really happens no matter what the “professionals” in the field tell you. Some states have passed reform legislation, but little has changed and unbelievable indignities and illegalities continue. I hear about new cases on a weekly basis.

Diane Wiest Masterfully Portrays an Overwhelmed Ward

In the movie guardian Grayson colludes with a doctor who is handsomely rewarded for pointing the guardian to “a cherry” patient. To wit: Jennifer Peterson, a wealthy older woman who appears to have no family (wonderfully portrayed by actress Diane Wiest.) Grayson also conspires with a nursing home operator to carefully restrict her ward’s access to the outside world. Nurses and orderlies comply with orders to never let Peterson use a phone or leave the property.  

When Peterson acts out in desperation her guardian convinces the judge she needs to go to a locked psychiatric ward.  Over medication continues.

Again, I’ve investigated real life cases in which all these things – and more dastardly actions – happened. Some guardians have gone to prison but not enough of them in my opinion. Law enforcement mostly declines to get involved in disputed guardianships by waving them off as “civil matters” to be decided by the courts.

The film goes off into Hollywood devised storylines I won’t give away. But “I Care A Lot” gave me the same sinking feeling I had during my deep dive investigation into exploitive guardianships. It is a field that often attracts the criminal element, those who figure it’s easier to fleece an elderly person out of their savings than be one of those guardians who really care about helping seniors in need.

Guardians Can Ban Upset Family From Seeing Parents – Perfectly Portrayed

So my movie recommendation? Watch “I Care A Lot” and take heed. Fake petitions for guardianship can and have been conjured up by angry family members or total strangers, approved by overworked or uncaring judges and perpetuated by lawyers with dollar signs in their eyes.

It really happens. And it could happen to you or someone you love.   



  1. Errol Rappaport on March 1, 2021 at 5:25 am

    Thank you for everything you do, to expose these lawyers, guardians and judges that are parasites of society.

  2. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:24 am

    mlibner writes:

    We watched it last night. It is indeed very disturbing that this could happen. I don’t know why every show/movie feels the need to have an underlying gay theme but whatever. I did enjoy seeing Peter Dinklage from Game Of Thrones in it.

  3. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:25 am

    RG5 writes:

    Go to orphan court any day of the week you will see the care facility and professional guardians pleading the judge to give them control of elder people. Sad for all

  4. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:27 am

    lmer615 writes:

    My wife and I considered watching this thing. But when I found out what it was about, I was revolted. Being older, 67, and dangerously close to the age when this sort of abuse begins to adopt the aged as targets, I simply cannot and will not give Hollywood and their hideous advertisers the benefit of the 2 hours of my attention while they glorify another corrupt societal activity to their benefit.

    • Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:27 am

      Diane Dimond replies:

      I hope you change your mind and become fully informed about a system that could ensnare you one day. A doctor, a neighbor, a real estate agent (who covets your property) a distant relative – anyone – can petition the court to have an elder put into an unwanted guardianship. I’ve seen it happen in countless cases across the country. Once in guardianship its almost impossible to get out. Burying your head in the sand won’t help you if, God forbid, you become a target.

      • KatieK on March 3, 2021 at 11:39 am

        I, too am 67 years old, but I watched it. I actually had to pause it and walk away for a few hours since it was so upsetting. I have no kids, and I am a widow—thanks for bringing our attention to this. I’m getting legal help to iron-clad myself against this horrifying sca.

        • George on July 31, 2021 at 3:48 am

          What kind of legal help is available to protect oneself against this practice?

          • Diane Dimond on August 1, 2021 at 12:22 pm

            DD replies to George:
            I am not a lawyer – but I would say, Mr. George, that your best bet is to engage an attorney who is a seasoned LITIGATOR, someone who knows how to duke it out in court. Avoid Elder Law and Estate attorneys as they are frequently part of the problem. And, since the ACLU has finally decided to enter the fray (via the Britney Spears case) I would suggest you contact your local ACLU and ask them to provide you with the same support they threw behind Ms. Spears. If you are indeed caught up in a guardianship/conservatorship (same thing) I wish you all the luck in the world. ~ DD

  5. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:28 am

    John Cooper

    It seems to me to be a violation of basic human rights. No order should placed upon a person without them having a chance to state their agreement or disagreement.

    • Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:30 am

      DD replies:

      Yet it happens all the time under the guise that the state is “helping” the old and mentally challenged. Try arguing that you AREN”T mentally challenged and the courts often shake their heads and say, “Poor thing…look how delusional you are.” It really IS an insidious system.

      • Marci Friedman on March 3, 2021 at 11:15 pm

        Exactly, or if the Medical report finds you incapacitated, and you are the next of kin, they partially incapacitate your loved one , and place a Guardian of the Property. Isolate, over medicate to rape the Estate. Now everyone gets paid, to Violate all your rights.

  6. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:30 am

    david wright writes:

    ive seen this happen…It happens often…it’s quite abusive..and sad…As an RN, i’ve heard stories from patients that they can’t figure out what happened, why the are where they are and wheres their home they used to have? its all very diabolical indeed..

  7. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:32 am

    beckyhoper75 writes:

    Just reading the article made me uncomfortable. I don’t think I could watch this – it hits too close to home.

  8. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Delores Jenisch writes:

    Talk about being in a living hell !!!
    Like Aunt Alma’s said many times to me, “Oh, kid, don’t get old.”

  9. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 9:34 am

    Ron Neff writes:

    My mother came to live with my wife and I when Mom was in her early 90s. She probably should have come a couple of years earlier but it did not happen. My older brother lived closer but he could not manage his own affairs, let alone our mothers. She and the bank owned her house but…..she ….had no pile of money. We sold her house to get rid of it and get what little equity there was in it so we could pay off her mountain of bills. Of course since she had dementia and was not really even sure what year it was, she would strike up a conversation with relatives when they called (who had no idea of her financial situation) and would say——I am not sure why Ron sold my house. and…..I am not sure what he did with the money because I did not see any of it. My wife and I have plenty of money of our own so we did not have any reason to take any of hers but…..I am sure her discussions made some people think Ron was getting the money. Of course no other family member ——ever——offered to watch Mom for a few weeks so Ron and his wife of almost 50 years could go on vacation or have a break. And…since her very very small pension and the minimum SS did not really pay for her expenses, it was clear very quickly that nobody wanted to chip in to help pay expenses. The kind of abuse outlined in the movie is horrendous but….there are also tons of people who are doing the right thing and caring for their parents in their final years

  10. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Jonathan Swartz writes:

    Recently saw I Care A Lot on Netflix. Very scary.

  11. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Paula Geisler writes:

    Scary and all too true. Thank you for getting the word out, far and wide, about this issue. It needs to get far more attention than it does.

  12. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    dynamight writes:

    As a physician I can assure you I have seen worse. A lot of times family members are the abusers. One time friends stole tens of thousands from a blind elderly women. APS (Adult Protective Services) never is interested .

  13. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    Mark Simmermon writes:

    Hey Diane,
    Just read your posting on “guardianship “. Is there anything one can do to prevent this from happening?

    Have a great day!

    • Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 1:21 pm

      DD replies to Mark Simmermon

      Yes. Spell out in a Last Will and Testament that you (or your elder loved one) definitively does NOT want a court ordered Guardianship.

      Be sure to name a non-revocable Power of Attorney as well as a backup POA person.

      Since disgruntled heirs (sons, daughters, siblings, cousins etc.) are among those who file the original petition for guardianship, be sure to put a section in your will that ANYONE who contests the will, the power of attorney designee(s), or pursues a guardianship will automatically be excommunicated from the estate.

      And, lastly, while you are in a healthy frame of mind put all these desires ON VIDEO TAPE (with that day’s newspaper seen prove that day’s date) and file a copy of that tape with your will. Give a copy to the lawyer that drew up your will and another to your most trusted POA or family member.

      That videotape could be a very important piece of evidence should an unwanted GS proceeding occur.

      PS – More info can be found here on my website. – Just scroll down the left hand column and you can read articles I wrote on the subject. Also – type GUARDIANSHIP into the search bar and you will find other columns I’ve written. Good Luck.

  14. Diane Dimond on March 1, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    David Ponsonby writes:

    It’s not called a Perfect Crime for nothing. The victim is isolated and unreachable and can’t reach out, either. The Conservator is rarely held accountable. We have a case coming up in CO that may be of interest.

  15. Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Cliff Darnell writes:

    Thank you Diane Dimond , For shining and bringing Transparency ,light in the dark corridors of the legal profession. Everyday people are naïve , they think because they write a will write a trust their wishes and wants are going to be met, but judges and lawyers everyday ignore and overlook what an elderly person has written when they were cognitive . It is truly unbelievable .

  16. Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Carla Ginn writes:

    Yes, watched I Care Alot over the weekend. Cant believe this is happening! I would be in fear that judges could get paid off too.

  17. Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Sharon Rager writes:

    Yes, I knew a family publicized in the Albuquerque Journal a few years ago. They never recovered. SO SAD.

    • Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      Diane replies to Sharon:

      I wrote that series in the ABQ Journal, Sharon. It centered on the Darnell family. Their mother was conscripted into an unwanted guardianship by a step-sister. You can read it again if you’d like. I have it posted on the front page (scroll down the left column) of this website –

  18. Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    drichard77 writes:

    This was a hard movie to watch. I hate when our seniors are mistreated!!!

  19. Diane Dimond on March 2, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    shannonsamaritan writes:

    Some of the saddest of our cases!!!

  20. Donna R. Gore on March 2, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    Diane – I understand and commend you for your work in eldercare abuse and fraud. However, I respectfully disagree with your take on the movie. Hollywood’s treatment of this topic makes a mockery of anyone who has devoted their careers to eldercare with integrity. Several people I’ve communicated with who have dedicated their careers to eldercare are shocked & horrified by this Netflix Movie.
    I shared this with my Support Group this morning –
    Let me say, I have nothing against entertainment, but some topics aren’t meant to be shown in this light.
    I Care A Lot” appears to be a satire on the role of legal guardianship. Its central character is a ruthless woman who only cares about making money off of her wealthy clients, she perpetrates a huge scam, including scamming a gullable judge. Along the way, there is a son who is in the Russian Mafia whose Mom is not incompetant whatsoever and will stop at nothing to get her out of the locked ward, including murder. There are several plot twists” right up til the end.
    My concern is that those who have never had exposure to the true world of legal guardianship – conservatorship may think this is the status quo!
    Yes, there is fraud by some unscrupulous attorneys who may take advantage of the elderly- relatively rare in the entire scope of this industry. With so many elderly passing away of COVID, many professionals feel this movie is very insensitive to those of us who are suffering from its impact. It is a mockery, creates a miseading picture if you are not familiar whatsoever with the many careers involved in eldercare. I worked in medical geriatrics for years.
    My sister and brother in law dedicatd 12 years to my Mom’s care and countless hours as her legal conservator. Mom was doing well in assisted living and contracted pnemonia sitting in an ER for hours. She was “an obedient soldier” and did all she was told to do, including having a positive attitude. This was not enough to save her life, as Thanksgiving Day, 2020 she passed. There was no resolution for me hundreds of miles away. I find no fault with continuing to expose elder abuse and fraud. However, this movie is not the model for society.
    This movie is wrong at the wrong time. #ACOVIDSurvivor.
    Thank you for allowing me to have my point of view-
    Donna R. Gore “Ladyjustice”

    • Diane Dimond on March 3, 2021 at 2:18 pm

      Donna, Thanks for your comments. I too immediately came away put-off by the Hollywood added storylines of mobsters, conniving between guardians and family members, etc. Also annoying was that the Golden Globes gave this film awards in the Comedy/Musical category! Ugh.
      However, on second thought I was just glad that the public was given a bird’s eye view into how random these guardianships can start – total strangers showing up one day announcing that a senior’s life is suddenly not their own. And, that there is nothing the elder person can do about it because a court of law has decreed they are under guardianship. I think the average citizen has no idea how insidious this system CAN begin, operate and end. Yes, I agree there are many elder caretakers who are loving, dedicated and honest. We should all be so grateful for their work. However, the public doesn’t need to be wary of THEM. They need to be fully informed about guardians who operate like the one in this movie. My years of investigating this topic prove they are not rare. They reside in many, many states and the law is only slowly coming to grips with a few of them. (Google guardian April Parks from Nevada, disciplinary action taken against guardians in Florida, federal convictions of guardians in New Mexico.) ~DD

  21. Diane Dimond on March 3, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Diane G. Armstrong, Ph.D. writes:

    Dear Diane,

    I just scanned your article in the Noozhawk about conservatorships/guardianships and must ask: Have you read my book, THE RETIREMENT NIGHTMARE? My Ph.D. is in Clinical Psychology, and I researched the subject deeply after I helped my mother avoid a bitter and unnecessary conservatorship filed by four of my angry siblings. It took 19 months of costly litigation (one-million-plus dollars) to repel the angry siblings. Yes, it was a nightmare, and the proceedings continue in courts across America today. My well-researched book came out in 2000, published by Prometheus Press. The complete title of the book:


    Lesson learned? The more things change, the more they remain the same.

    With thanks,

    Diane G. Armstrong, Ph.D.
    Santa Barbara/Princeville

  22. Diane Dimond on March 3, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    DIANA KELLEHER writes”

    Dear Diane, Thank you for continuing this necessary dialogue about criminal abuse of the elderly by unscrupulous thugs in the world of guardianship. Where to begin to get responsibility and accountability by those who game the system?
    Openness is a beginning, no secrecy from the public; oversight by people who have nothing to gain from the elder, perhaps high profile business owners who have their own wealth and don’t need to scam anyone. Privacy is the excuse of the scoundrel who wishes to hide his shenanigans from view.
    My husband and I are in the elderly zone and I have explained this scurrilous practice to my two sons and the danger of publicly quarreling over care of a parent who needs a little attention to be able to live on their own.
    I have often walked past the property and home of the late Casey and Blair Darnell, who were friends of ours and wondered if anything was ever clawed back from the illegal transfer of their property leaving the children with nothing.

    Thanks for your reporting on so many important issues.

  23. Diane Dimond on March 3, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Mike Uszuko writes:

    Well this is not your normal article however it was another timely and important read.
    We did watch this movie several days ago just by chance. What an eye opening movie it was. Yes it was sprinkled with a lot of Hollywood but the basic idea was very disturbing and sadly very true. Makes you really wonder how we have gotten to this point in society when the vast majority are good and caring people.
    Stories like this and the ever increasing avalanche of attorney commercials on tv that promise to get you more and more money for anything that might have happened to you are just another reminder that the drive for free or almost free money is behind most of the bad things that are in this world today.
    And that does not even touch on the many forms of government that reach into your pocket with the idea that we are just trying to make things better for you…no matter what it costs.
    Another good one Diane.

  24. Marci Friedman on March 3, 2021 at 11:05 pm

    Diane, Thank You for I Care Alot review. Your interpretation is right on. My Vulnerable Mother, Lilia Martinez, Minority Vulnerable Elder, suffering from Alzheimer’s, has been a Victim of this abuse. In Lockdown since 2014, in South Florida, 3 Judges, 1 recused, 6 Court Orders to enforce visitation, held Isolated inside a garage, falls, negligence, over dozed, exploited, and I am her only daughter and next of kin, and no one held responsible. The systematic abuse is horrific, denying freedom to any one is unjust, painful and damaging. It is my opinion this should of never had happened, and to no fault of her own. Again, thank you for shining light where there is so much darkness. God Bless You

  25. Diane Dimond on March 11, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    Anne Earle writes:

    Your recent article about elder guardianships really hit home. My elderly cousin was financially exploited by an unscrupulous attorney who decimated over $2M of her assets by making horrible (and potentially illegal) financial decisions, with very little oversight (he did get caught “borrowing” $100,000 from her one year). Then when her finances were totally depleted, he bailed and when I moved back to her home town, I applied to become her legal guardian. At that point in time she had $68 to her name, was on medicaid and had been dumped in a sub-standard horror-show of a nursing home. It took me 2 years to get a medicaid bed in a nursing home closer to her home. Thankfully she had a pre-paid funeral plan (which she put in place long before her dementia incapacitated her) because at her death she had a little over $400 to her name. Karma will catch up with the creep who financially raped her, but this scenario happens way too often…sadly. Thank you for discussing it and informing people of the issue.

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