Every American should watch “Guardians, Inc.” (Dirty Money s2e5)

For the past few years, the Netflix series Dirty Money has profiled numerous cases of global, national, and localized financial fraud and abuse. Some of the one-hour episodes touch very emotional nerves because the cases involve rightly emotionally-charged topics such as housing, government, and personal banking. I usually don’t write about television, let alone specific episodes of television, but very few pieces of media have shocked and angered me like “Guardians, Inc.”

The fifth episode in the series’ newly released second season exposes a cottage industry of abuse of America’s legal guardianship system. It seems that almost anyone can apply to become a legal guardian of anyone, regardless of their relationship or lack thereof with the elderly citizen assessed to be a ‘ward of the state.’ Abusive guardianship has become a network with many moving parts that all point to the same place – milking money out of the nation’s older adults. 

Basically, people are referred to legal counsel who ‘specialize’ in this area. They are often convinced to sign documents they have little to no understanding of, which in turn gives the ‘guardians’ power of attorney. In one of the two cases the episode is built around, an attorney ends up selling a man’s childhood home without his consent. It is eventually demolished and the man has never received a penny of the sale. 

In the second case, an estranged family member is put in place as a second guardian. This family member then transfers this guardianship to a politically-connected woman with close to 40 wards already who lies about the man’s safety in the care of his common-law wife in order to arrest him. Charlie Thrash’s location is still unknown. Even the aforementioned estranged family member who is interviewed declines to disclose his whereabouts.

In both of these cases, anti-psychotic drugs were recommended at several points. As one legal expert points out in the episode, there are very few older Americans under guardianship who have not been prescribed these medications. It’s a lot easier, then, to get folks to agree to things when they’re less aware of what’s going on.

These cases and many others reveal a serious problem in our court system. Many of the experts interviewed in the episode affirm that court-appointed guardians are often chummy with judges. The longest hearings on individual citizens becoming wards of the state last only ten minutes. Some take just thirty seconds. Once you are declared legally incapacitated, it seems there’s very little you can do. There are often phony medical reports written in the first place. It’s often said that a fish rots from the head down, but in this case, the fish is already rotten on both ends. 

And that’s all before saying this is all for profit. The legal fees alone are astronomical, especially to fight these kinds of court orders. It isn’t just about getting something in the will or an equivalent document; it’s a new kind of old boy’s club which threatens the civil rights, health, and economic security of old boys and girls. It’s all for short-term gain. 

In this new, completely uncertain era of COVID-19, “Guardians, Inc.” is the most important thing Americans can watch. We are hurdling towards a new kind of vulnerability for older Americans. It behooves us to understand what our friends and loved ones may be facing in addition to likely worse health outcomes. We also must realize that we will all be part of the eldest age bracket one day, and it’s important to know what to watch out for. This is not just exploitation. This is nothing less than economic terrorism. It may often be on a local and family level, but it is a national crisis that may only get worse with time. Whatever you work for all your life, you deserve to have at the end of your life. That is part of the American dream. Abusive guardianship robs our most vulnerable fellow citizens of the American dream.

-George Napper

“Guardians, Inc.” is now available to stream on Netflix as part of their original series Dirty Money

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