The Bad Guardian: Is the Lifetime Movie Based on a True Story?

Directed by Claudia Myers, ‘The Bad Guardian’ is a Lifetime thriller that explores possibly the worst-case scenario of having a court-appointed guardian and conservator. The film introduces us to Leigh Delgado, whose elderly father, Jason, is injured by a fall when she is out of town. To support Jason, the court appoints an unknown woman, Janet, as his guardian. Janet is initially very helpful, but Leigh realizes that she now has complete legal control over Jason and his finances. Leigh’s nightmare begins as Janet auctions off Jason’s house, places him in a nursing home, and closes all his bank accounts.

With the law on Janet’s side, Leigh fights an uphill battle to save her father from the clutches of the deadly guardian. Janet doesn’t allow any of the family members to visit Jason as his health deteriorates, being denied life-saving treatment by her. Together with other whistleblowers, Leigh faces the corrupt system in which Janet thrives. Watching the terrifying scenario unfold, questions are generated regarding whether the Lifetime movie is based on a true story.

The Bad Guardian is Inspired by Real Cases of Conservatorship

‘The Bad Guardian’ draws inspiration from many cases relating to the conservatorship system. While real-world examples of guardians misusing their power can be unearthed, there are none in the public eye that can be considered close to as severe as in the story of ‘The Bad Guardian,’ which is penned by Ashley Gable. In recent years, two cases have drawn public attention to the possible need for a review of the conservatorship system. The first was Britney Spears’ highly publicized alleged mistreatment under guardianship, and the second was Lifetime’s docu-series on Wendy Williams’s time under conservatorship.

The conservatorship system is a legal arrangement designed to protect individuals who are deemed unable to manage their own affairs due to physical or mental limitations. A conservator, appointed by a court, is granted authority to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person, managing their finances, healthcare, and other aspects of their life. Epistemologically, conservatorship pertains to overseeing the financial affairs of someone who isn’t capable of doing so themselves, while guardianship relates more to managing medical and physical care. However, the terms are often used interchangeably, and in many states’ regulations, the duties of conservatorship cover those of guardianship.

One of the most high-profile cases that has cast doubt on the conservatorship system is that of Britney Spears. Britney Spears, the pop icon, was under conservatorship since 2008 following highly publicized personal struggles. Under this arrangement, her father, Jamie Spears, had controlled her finances and major life decisions for over a decade, along with a lawyer and financial advisors. The #FreeBritney movement, fueled by concerns from fans and supporters, brought widespread attention to the restrictions placed on Spears and raised questions about the legality and ethics of her conservatorship. In 2021, Spears’ conservatorship ended after she challenged it in court.

Lifetime’s ‘Where Is Wendy Williams?’ became the center of controversy when its release was challenged by Williams’ court-appointed guardian, Sabrina Morrissey. The documentary recounted how the television star had faced struggles with alcoholism and health issues and required external support. At this point, her financial managers at Wells Fargo froze her accounts in 2022, and after a few months, a court-appointed her a legal guardian. However, the guardian was not a member of her family, as in the case of Spears, but an unknown professional.

The documentary series found deficiencies in the care provided to Williams by her guardian, who allegedly restricted her family members from calling her. “How did she go from this aunt or sister that we love and is healthy one minute to this person who’s in and out of the hospital?” asked Williams’ sister Wanda Finnie. “How is that system better than the system the family could put in place? I don’t know. I do know that this system is broken. I hope that at some point, Wendy becomes strong enough where she can speak on her own behalf.”

The cases of Britney Spears and Wendy Williams have prompted a broader conversation about the conservatorship system. Critics argue that these arrangements can be susceptible to abuse, as seen in Spears’ case, where she has expressed a desire to regain control over her life but faced legal obstacles in doing so. Concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency and accountability in the process of appointing and overseeing conservators, as well as the potential for conflicts of interest.

One of the most outspoken critics of the system is journalist and author Diane Dimond, who advocates for a complete overhaul. “More than some 2 million Americans are currently living under a guardian or conservatorship. It’s estimated that state courts confiscate over $50 billion from their wards,” said Dimond. “There’s no trial, there’s no right to present opposing witnesses. Usually, the judge will just take the petition, rubber stamp it, appoint the guardian or conservator.” This is because the guardianship proceedings take place in a court of equity and not in a criminal or civil court. She also noted a worrying trend of courts appointing professional guardians over family members or close friends.

As shown in ‘The Bad Guardian,’ once under guardianship, the individual cannot make decisions for themselves, making it extremely difficult to challenge the guardianship in court if ill-treatment is suffered. While the conservatorship system has its flaws, it has also helped individuals maintain their financials and health. Lifetime’s documentary on Wendy Williams noted that in her case, the conservatorship can be considered a net positive. ‘The Bad Guardian’ is a fictional movie that is inspired by real-life cases criticizing the conservatorship system, and paints possibly the worst-case scenario through them.

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