Guardianship: For Far Too Many, It’s a Nightmare


Elderly man falls, hits head, goes to hospital with severe concussion. His memory is fuzzy. By the time this daughter finds out, he’s at assisted living. She wants to bring him home. 

But, no. A woman explains she’s been appointed by a probate court as his guardian. He can’t go home with his daughter, she says. He can’t leave the facility. He can’t do anything without the guardian’s permission. He can’t make his own healthcare decisions. He can’t spend his own money. His daughter does her best to fight the system and free her dad, but meanwhile, he gets put on more and more drugs.

That’s the basic plot for “The Bad Guardian,” a new film now streaming on Lifetime that aims to encapsulate all that can go wrong with guardianship — a system that strips individuals of their money, their rights, their freedom to make any decisions affecting any corner of their life. 

Here on Mad in The Family and Mad in America, none of this is surprising. We’ve read first-person accounts by family members recounting such nightmare scenarios — including Marian Kornicki’s story from 2022 and Poppy Helgren’s from December of last year. Most recently, Duane Farrant described losing his mother to conservatorship and all the horrors that followed. And former MITF editor Miranda Spencer has written extensively about Britney Spears and the #FreeBritney movement that rallied for her release. 

Spears, who was freed from conservatorship in November 2021, has received the most attention in mainstream coverage of such issues, although other celebrities occasionally bubble up into the public consciousness. But by and large, besides the #FreeBritney campaign, most people outside the MIA/MITF community have barely an inkling of the outrages that can occur under guardianship and conservatorship. 

To be clear, not all guardians are abusive; as author Diane Dimond explained in We’re Here To Help: When Guardianship Goes Wrong, family members often fill the role with loving responsibility. But as she made clear in both the book and in my MIA podcast interview with her last year, others exploit and abuse those in their care. As she said during our conversation: 

“Every year in this country, state courts hear guardianship cases. The targeted person is declared an incapacitated ward of the court. They are stripped of their civil rights. In most states, the vast majority of states, they can’t even hire a lawyer to defend themselves because they’re incapacitated. These state courts then confiscate the money, property, investments of all the wards and put it in the name of the guardian. . . . It’s just a playground for predators. That is what it’s become.”

And that, in essence, is the message of “The Bad Guardian,” which was inspired not by one specific story but by the experiences of countless people. Playing the daughter, Melissa Joan Hart embodies the bafflement and frustration of those who, trying to advocate for their loved ones, bump up against a system purportedly designed to aid people but routinely dehumanizes and hurts them. 

As executive producer Elizabeth Stephens told an investigative reporter at a ABC Action News in Tampa Bay: “Every single turn of events is true. It’s all real. And, you know, it’s shocking. . . .  What happens is they get into the system, and then, as you know, it’s almost impossible to get out.”

That could well be the biggest horror of all — the legal cage that traps the vulnerable. In his recent piece for MITF, Farrant unspooled a gut-wrenching story of his “stolen” mother’s own cage. While trapped inside the system, she lost her health. Her teeth. Her ability to make any decisions. Her liberty in every sense. And he could not get her out. 

“People in this system of ‘care’ lied, cheated, and stole, ignoring my mother’s health, desires, and well-being until it killed her,” he wrote. “This is what happens—not just to her, but to many.” 

Far too many. 

—Amy Biancolli, Family Editor 

[email protected]


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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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