Life & Lifestyle

Watching Out for Your Loved Ones: Be Aware

While the film I Care A Lot may have won Rosamund Pike, its lead actress, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, the film’s topic is no laughing matter. Pike plays Marla Grayson, a guardian-for-hire who locks up older adults, drains their assets, and drugs them to keep them quiet. While watching, many viewers were left wondering if this could really happen — and if it can happen to them.

Guardianships are a vital method of caring for adults unable to care for themselves. Adults with significant cognitive disabilities, advanced dementia, or severe physical limitations may benefit from a guardian’s oversight. This arrangement places the adult in need, known as a “ward,” into the care of a “guardian” in charge of their physical and financial needs.

As helpful as they can be, guardianships are also an extreme measure. Luckily, Texas has a few safeguards that make I Care A Lot merely a work of fiction.

While the film’s villain drains her victims’ bank accounts with no one watching, guardians in Texas are required to report their ward’s physical and financial well-being to the court. Texas also implemented a “Bill of Rights” for wards in Texas to ensure the guardianship arrangement is only as restrictive as necessary.

Most importantly, courts in Texas emphasize “least restrictive alternatives” when deciding to grant a guardianship. In I Care A Lot, Marla obtains guardianship over her proposed wards with a simple doctor’s note. After certain guardianship reforms passed in Texas in 2015, anyone applying for guardianship over another adult must certify to the court that all alternatives to guardianship have been considered.

Villains like Marla Grayson always have a plan. The best way to stop a villain is by having a plan for yourself. Here are a few estate planning documents considered “least restrictive alternatives” that courts look for in granting guardianships. You can have them on hand in case you ever find yourself in need.

Financial Power of Attorney

Also known as a “statutory durable power of attorney,” use this document to designate one or more people to act on your behalf in business transactions. It can be drafted so it goes into effect immediately upon signing or so it only goes into effect upon your incapacity (known as a “springing” power of attorney).

Medical Power of Attorney

This document allows you to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf should you be unconscious or unable to make decisions for yourself.

Designation of Guardian Before Need Arises

This document gives you some say about who would be your guardian, should you ever need one. As long as the person named is eligible to serve, the court usually would appoint your designated guardian to care for you, if required.

Supported Decision-Making Agreement

Unlike a power of attorney, this form does not allow someone to make decisions on someone else’s behalf. It allows someone to manage their own affairs while designating another adult to assist with decision-making.

With these documents and the laws of the state of Texas in place to protect older adults, I Care A Lot is not likely to come true for anyone in Texas any time soon.


Heather McKinney

Heather McKinney is an Equal Justice Works fellow and attorney at Legal Aid of North West Texas, where she provides legal representation to victims of elder abuse and exploitation. She also conducts community education and outreach to foster an organized, community-based response to senior abuse and exploitation instances. You can learn more about Heather and her fellowship HERE.

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