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Can you imagine someone legally taking control of your parent’s house, selling their assets, barring you from seeing them and putting them in a nursing home against their will, and there being nothing you can do about it?
It sounds absolutely crazy, but it happens.
And in the Netflix cautionary tale of court-appointed guardianship – ‘I Care A Lot’ – Rosamund Pike plays the cold-hearted, greedy court-appointed legal guardian, Marla Grayson, who defrauds elders out of their independence, liquidates their assets and takes the profits for herself.
I won’t share any (more) spoilers, but I’ll say this – within the 15 minutes of the movie, I was already pulling for my phone searching the internet on how to protect my parents (and my future self) against court-appointed guardship. Basically I was searching for how to protect my family from predators like Marla.
What is a court-appointed guardianship anyway?
The court can appoint a legal guardian to a person if it believes that they lack the ability or understanding to supervise their own care and finances.
Basically, if you become incapacitated for whatever reason – say due to mental disorder, physical or mental disability, chronic abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, or physical illness – then the court can step in as a last resort to make important decisions for you if no other alternatives were in place.
That person could be your loving spouse, your lazy opportunistic child, your greedy estranged family member, or a perfect stranger who would care for you as his or her own family.
Point is, you may not know your guardian, and while ‘incapacitated’, YOU won’t be able to change it or protect yourself against court-appointed guardianship.
And that person would have control over your life and livelihood including the ability to:
- Move you from your permanent residence to a facility
- Consent to withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatments
- Restrict your communications and visits
- Make decisions that impact your everyday life including clothing, food, freedom and activities.
- Liquidate your assets to cover their fees, your expenses, etc.
Considering the range of a court-appointed guardian’s power, would you really want the state picking that person for you without your input?
Didn’t think so.
How to protect against court-appointed guardianship?
The best way to ensure you’ll have the right person with your best interest at heart, is by being proactive and planning for your own future with:
- A power of attorney/s for areas of your life and/or
- A revocable trust
1. A power of attorney
One way to protect yourself against court-appointed guardianship is by having a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document where you give a person authority to handle your financial decisions and take actions like paying bills, settling debts, and sell property on your behalf if you become incapacitated and are unable to do this yourself.
There are different types of power of attorney that can fit different circumstances – from a General POA, to a Special POA, to a Healthcare POA to a Durable POA, and more, so getting the right one/s will help ensure you are covered.
How does a power of attorney work?
You can elect a healthcare power of attorney to make decisions based on your medical care, and elect someone to handle your financial affairs if you’d like to specialize your selections based on the personal strengths/skills of those in your network.
Setting up your power of attorney doesn’t require the courts, take a long time or cost a lot of money. In fact, you can have your power of attorney set up with just a few simple steps depending on the type of power of attorney you want, and be on the races in no time.
Using a Power of Attorney allows you to retain control where you can put an expiration date on it and even revoke it if you and the person you chose have a falling out for example. And a power of attorney isn’t just a way to protect against court-appointed guardianship and eldercare exploitation, but it’s also good for college students, new parents, retirees, basically everyone because you never know if you’ll end up in an accident and need someone to manage your affairs while you recover.
2. A revocable trust (living trust)
Yes, you read that right. Trusts are not just for passing on wealth to kids, in fact, it’s frequently regarded as the gold standard to protect against court-appointed guardianship and ensure if that you are incapacitated the best guardian is selected … one chosen by you.
How do revocable trusts work?
You can create a trust which is a legal document that holds the ownership of assets, then transfer your assets into the trust. The assets in the trust will be for your benefit and you will appoint a trustee to ensure that the trust funds are actually being used as directed in the event of your incapacitation. Of course, while you are alive you still maintain control of the assets and you can add and remove folks at your will.
Ready to get your plan in order
I know this is just a movie, and that elder ‘acuisition’ (yikes … I had a shudder just writing that) don’t go as easily as it did for Marla in real life. But this is far from the first time I’ve heard of this type of case. There is even a site to help families.
This is a real issue which all elders and their children should be thinking about now.
This is why protecting yourself by legally drafting out your wishes is so key.
Sure, there are a few bad actors out there, and most guardians are likely good people who actually care a lot (ha! See what I did there… ahem, back to it 🙂 ). But you don’t want you or your family member to be the one who gets a bad apple or someone you wouldn’t want to watch your dog, looking out for you.
You might be tempted to brush this off since we have a tendency to believe it could never happen to us or our loved ones, and that’s why I love working with companies that make this important but scary process easier.
Trust and Will is a company that believes in making this process quick, easy and legal. They’ll walk you through everything you need to do one question at a time. And they have an expert team standing by to ensure that you create a perfect, customized Estate Plan to meet your needs.
And the best part, most of their customers complete a simple set up in about 15 minutes – that’s less time than it takes to get a hair cut!
Truth is, life happens.
And when things are this important, you want to take your time to ask questions, research and make sure you are getting the protection you need.
And the best way to protect yourself and avoid becoming a statistic is to recognize the possibilities and – while you’re doing well – make a plan for if and when it does.