Netflix’s ‘I Care a Lot’ highlights importance of professional guardian certifications

From documentary, "Framing Britney Spears", to Netflix's latest hit, "I Care a Lot" - it seems like everyone is debating the virtues of professional guardianship. So how can those interested in practicing it for the greater good make the cut?

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

J Blakeson’s Netflix hit “I Care a Lot” has shed the spotlight on the virtues of professional guardianship and what it means to be a legal conservator. 

The film follows court-appointed guardian Marla Grayson (played by Rosamund Pike), who makes a living using the legal system to grant her guardianship over seniors before taking control over their finances, sticking them in a nursing home and selling off their assets for her own profit.

Some of Grayson’s sinister activities includes abusing the access granted to her by the law to bill herself hourly rates and underwrite any expenses she incurred while rummaging through the homes of her clients in the search of valuables. 

While the story is absurd in many ways – the guardian laws and scams it depicts are terrifyingly accurate. It’s a story all too familiar to thousands of Americans whose elderly parents have been swindled by guardianship programmes.


In speaking about the film, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship founder Sam Sugar said: “I’ve seen previews and it accurately depicts what a guardian does and how they act with absolute impunity and brazen cold-hearted no-care-whatsoever as long as they win and as long as the winning means they get the money of the person they protect.”

According to the Guardian, an estimated 1.3 million adults are under the care of guardians who control approximately 50 billion US dollars of their assets. The system is not well understood and has long suffered a lack of oversight, transparency and basic protection.

What does it mean to be a professional guardian?

A professional guardian is a legal relationship authorised by a court between a guardian – usually a family member or court-appointed professional – and a person who is elderly, or deemed to be of diminished capacity (usually referred to as “incapacitated” or “incompetent”). A classic example can be seen with US pop star Britney Spears’s father who has control over many aspects of her personal life, from her estate to her career and finances, as seen on the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary.

While unscrupulous individuals tarnish the reputation of professional guardians, these individuals do play an essential role in modern society when acting without ulterior motives. 

Most legal guardianships or conservatorships are not egregiously corrupt like Pike’s character; many, however, can attest to the challenges of managing the affairs of low-income individuals who require daily assistance, or how professional guardians are legally required to step in when the children of elderly parents enter lawsuits against each other.

What qualifications are required?

To become a certified professional guardian, you will need to be: above the age of 18, of sound mind, without felony or misdemeanour convictions, equipped with the knowledge to be financially responsible, and in some cases – backed by a degree from an accredited institution. 


Work experience is a plus. This often includes decision-making or the use of independent judgment on behalf of others in the area of legal, financial, social services or healthcare or other disciplines pertinent to the provision of guardianship services.

While these are highly recommended, The New York Times reports that New York requires aspiring professional guardians to only complete a one-day certification course. In some cases, aspiring guardians are not even required to subject themselves to background checks as the state relies on the honour system.

As an occupation ripe for exploitation, it’s likely regulations will change in the near future. So while the bar to entry can be low, getting recognised credentials can help set aspirants apart. These certifications in the US can help:

Certificate in Guardianship

In this three-course certificate programme, participants will acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become an effective guardian of developmentally disabled adults, elderly individuals with disabilities or diminished capacity and other adults declared incapacitated by the courts. The programme fulfils the educational requirements to become a Certified Professional Guardian (CPG) in Washington state.

National Certified Guardian (NCG)

The NCG designation is granted to individuals who have met the minimum eligibility standards for the Center for Guardianship Certification (CGC). including the necessary training and testing requirements. The designation must be renewed every two years as long as eligibility and continuing education requirements are met.

National Master Guardian (NMG)

NMGs are expected to have a comprehensive understanding of the issues pertaining to guardianships of both the person and of the estate. The prerequisites for the certification include NCG status from the CGC, extensive professional guardianship experience, submission of a comprehensive application and passing a qualifying examination. The designation must be renewed every three years as long as eligibility and continuing education requirements are met.