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Netflix Serves Up a Cautionary Tale of Elder Scams with ‘I Care a Lot’ 

Actress Rosamund Pike thanks “America’s broken legal system” for her Golden Globe Award-winning role.

If you are streaming entertainment at home these days — and in the age of Covid, who isn’t? — you may have come across two critically acclaimed films centered on vulnerable older adults. 

The first is The Father, starring Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, as an elderly father and his adult daughter struggling to deal with his downward spiral into dementia. 

The drama is harrowing in its unsparing depiction of the utter helplessness that grips dementia patients and their concerned loved ones. Bit by bit, Hopkins’ character loses his memory, his rationality, and his connection to the people around him. This is torture for him and the daughter who witnesses his decline. 

Anyone watching The Father would rightly think that this family needs professional and institutional help. He has lost the capacity to care for himself, and the problem is too big for his daughter to manage. There must be a legal mechanism that allows capable people to step in and take charge of the health, welfare, and safety of the incapacitated elder. Well, be careful what you wish for because this brings us to our second film.

In I Care a Lot, Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian for older adults who can no longer care for themselves. But Marla’s motives are far from pure. She goes to court and petitions for appointment without notice to the senior in question. In fact, she doesn’t meet her ‘wards’ until she shows up at their homes with a court order, and proceeds to move them into a nursing home. Then, with power of attorney over the senior’s finances, Marla assumes control, selling off assets to enrich herself. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the state of the elder law across this nation, you might be rolling your eyes at this point, thinking the premise is too far-fetched. In fact, one viewer posted this comment on the film’s IMDB.com page: “It is simply inconceivable that a court order can be obtained unilaterally and then a perfectly normal person can be transferred to a care home without any further review or appeal process.” Unfortunately, sometimes the truth is too strange to be fiction.

To be clear, I Care a Lot is fiction, a dark comedy with plot twists calculated to entertain. But its inspiration came from real life. According to an interview in 2020, the film’s director and writer J Blakeson got the idea from "news stories about these predatory legal guardians who were exploiting this legal loophole and exploiting the vulnerability in the system to take advantage of older people, basically stripping them of their life and assets to fill their own pockets." The incidents Blakerson uncovered were "horrifying" but "not uncommon." 

Blakeson calls Marla’s tactics “true to life in the fact that there are lots of these predatory guardians who do pray on vulnerable and elderly people, and sort of entrap them in these guardianships and basically sort of strip their life apart. The true-life stories of it are really quite harrowing and horrifying, so unfortunately, yeah, it does happen.”  

The situation depicted in I Care a Lot may seem extreme, but fraud against the elderly abounds: charity scams, credit card scams, and scams capitalizing on the fear surrounding COVID. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau puts the annual price tag on elder fraud somewhere between $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion. 

Marla’s scheme is perhaps more brazen than the average telephone scammer. After all, she shows her face in court and directly confronts her victims. But she has a veneer of legitimacy provided by a dangerous loophole in the law, that is the ability to get an emergency order without serving notice to the targeted elder or any member of the elder’s family. Some state laws require notice, but even so, courts are often willing to waive the requirement. Then, once someone has been appointed as an emergency guardian, he or she can usually get a permanent appointment without the adult ward appearing in court.

Given these circumstances, it’s no wonder Ms. Pike, when receiving her Golden Globe for the role of Marla, thanked “America’s broken legal system” for providing the opportunity. Perhaps it’s time to reform the law and let Hollywood screenwriters look elsewhere for inspiration. 

If you or an elder loved one has been the victim of elder fraud, our attorneys are ready to investigate. If we find financial abuse, we are ready to fight to recover your losses.

Call us: 833.201.1555 or Connect Online.

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Related topics: fraud | scams


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