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Illegal Guardian

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Three children lose their home and go to live with someone awful.
He tries to steal their fortune with a plot that's not quite lawful.

Our favorite Heartwarming Orphan has recently lost their beloved parents and is in danger of being sent to an Orphanage of Fear. But what's this? That uncle we've never heard of has agreed to be their legal guardian! The family fortune is saved! They just have to wait until they're 18 and... what's uncle doing with that axe?

This is the Illegal Guardian, who may be an Evil Uncle or Wicked Stepmother or no relative at all with an Evil Plan to get all the money from those darn cough, cough beloved children. Compare Fostering for Profit, which is generally more indifferent and involves a less dramatic payout.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • In Michiko & Hatchin, Hana is adopted by a priest after her mother passed away. The entire family is abusive, and the priest's main motivation for keeping Hana around is for the welfare payments. And that's before said priest decides to just try and kill her after she runs away so he can cash in on the insurance money.
  • Subverted by Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. Hayate's guardian is Admiral Gil Graham of the TSAB, who set her up in a nice house, paid all her bills for her, and generally gave her the comfiest life a crippled preteen could ask for. Then he put her through a Heroic BSoD and Demonic Possession and nearly had her sealed away between the dimensions for the rest of eternity. The subversion comes about because Graham genuinely wanted Hayate to have a good life before he did this, and he viewed his actions as being regrettable but necessary in order to save billions of lives from the Artifact of Doom possessing Hayate.
  • In Tiger & Bunny Barnaby was raised by his parents' friend and business partner following his parents' murder. It turns out Maverick used his super power a type of Mind Rape to control Barnaby and make him believe the murder was someone other than Maverick himself, while using him as a means of raising the profile of Hero TV, the superhero tv show Barnaby works for. All while staging many of the the crimes Barnaby and his coworkers stop, directly against the wishes of his parents.

     Comic Books 

  • In the original Doom Patrol comics, after his parents died in a boating accident, Beast Boy's court-appointed legal guardian is a villain named Nicholas Galtry who embezzled his inheritance and tried to kill him so it wouldn't be revealed. The Doom Patrol then stops him and adopts Garfield.

     Films — Animated 
  • A movie for The Littles focused on Tom and Lucy befriending an orphan boy who's abused and locked up by his uncle, who only took him in for the access to boy's inheritance. Later the boy finds a letter from his father saying that his uncle was never meant to adopt him, someone else was.
  • In Tom and Jerry: The Movie the titular duo meets with Robyn, a girl with a Disappeared Dad who is under the care of Aunt Figg and Mr. Lickboot, and her guardians are more concerned for money than her well-being.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • Escape to Witch Mountain: Tony and Tia are orphaned siblings with an assortment of intriguing Psychic Powers. A corrupt rich guy, Mr. Bolt, gets his Dragon Lucas Deranian to forge papers making himself out to be the kids' uncle, so Deranian can take custody of the kids and deliver them to Bolt.
  • In The Glass House (2001), the childless couple Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgård) Glass take in 16-year-old Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) and 11-year-old Rhett (Trevor Morgan) after their parents are killed in an auto accident. Ruby eventually learns that the Glasses are after the children's $4 million trust fund. Terry is in hock to loan sharks, and Erin uses drugs. They also may have been involved in the accident.
  • In The Man from Kangaroo, Muriel's guardian Martin Giles has ben embezzling from her. Now she is almost of age, he plans to marry her to gain complete control of her fortune and to prevent her from ever testifying against him.


  • Count Olaf throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, who is after the family fortune and otherwise shows nothing but contempt for the Baudelaires. Esmé Squalor as well, though she cares less about the money and more about reversing and getting revenge for a wrong she blames on their mother. A few others ("Sir", Principal Nero, and the Village of Fowl Devotees) clearly do not have the children's best interests at heart and are happy to exploit them, but aren't as outright evil. (That really only leaves Monty, Josephine and Esmé's husband Jerome as the only guardians that are not this trope.)
  • Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas. Played with a bit, as the dying father intentionally leaves his daughter in his brother's care to clear his name, as he thinks Silas was wrongfully accused of murder years ago.
  • Roald Dahl's Matilda features the terrifying Agatha Trunchbull, evil aunt to the angelic Miss Honey, who fits this trope to a tee. Not only did she force Miss Honey to do all the housework as a child, she also mistreated her, leaving her a nervous wreck. Even when Miss Honey grew up, she forced her to sign over her entire salary to Trunchbull, to pay her back for raising her.
  • The main character of The Dresden Files spent the last four years of his childhood living with one of these, though Justin DuMorne was after magically powerful slaves rather than money.
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry believed his uncle and aunt would have stolen his father's fortune if they knew about it. Given how they treated him, it's a reasonable fear (although it wasn't out of greed but a lingering fear and hatred of the supernatural, along with a big helping of resentment from his aunt who'd never been able to go to Hogwarts).
  • In Animorphs Tobias had previously lived with an aunt or uncle, neither of whom cared much about him. Then a long-lost cousin suddenly appears who seems interested in taking him in...only to be revealed to be Visser Three in morph, who became interested in Tobias because he's Elfangor's son.
  • In Les MisÚrables, Fantine leaves her daughter, Cosette, in the care of the corner-cutting Innkeepers Thenardier who work Cosette as a servant and pocket the money Fantine sends them for her upkeep.
  • Basil Tramplebone (with that kind of name, you know he can't be up to any good) is one to Measle in Measle And The Wrathmonk. A thoroughly detestable individual who so happens to be a mad warlock, Basil is after Measle's inheritance and is in fact responsible for the disappearance of his parents.
  • In A College of Magics, Faris's Uncle Brinker is her guardian and regent until she comes of age, and fully intends to have settled things to his own advantage before she does. It's not him trying to kill her, though; she's much more useful to him alive.
  • In Dear America "Down the Rabbit Hole", Pringle Duncan's aunt and uncle move into Pringle's (very grand and expensive) home after her parents are killed in an accident, ostensibly to care for Pringle and her brother, but they treat the Duncan siblings so badly that they run away shortly thereafter. The epilogue states that Pringle returned at the age of 21 to reclaim her home and her inheritance from her shocked aunt, who had believed that Pringle and Gideon were gone for good and so she would get what was rightfully theirs.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In Help! I'm a Teenage Outlaw, Sir John Snakelaw is Lady Devereux's Evil Uncle and legal guardian who keeps her a virtual prisoner in her own castle while he schemes way to seize permanent control of her lands and fortune.


  • Richard III, making another one for The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples
    • Claudius, in Hamlet. He wouldn't need to abuse his position as Hamlet's stepfather, since he's also the king, but he finds it politically advantageous to do so rather than ordering the technical-rightful-king around.
    • Two examples in As You Like It: Oliver is this to his brother Orlando after his Promotion to Parent, keeping Orlando from his inheritance and refusing to make arrangements for his education; Rosalind's uncle, Duke Frederick, allows her to stay at court after usurping her father's position because his own daughter, Celia, loves her, but he changes his mind and exiles her at the start of the play. They both get better though.
  • Mime from Richard Wagner's Siegfried. A Dirty Coward who tends to be (wrongly) made into The Woobie in modern productions.
  • Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, from Annie, pretend to be Little Orphan Annie's "real parents" to scam reward money out of Daddy Warbucks.
  • Uncle Barnaby in Babes in Toyland (though not the 1934 or 1961 film adaptations).

     Visual Novels  
  • Inverted with Cecilia in Daughter for Dessert, for whom neither the protagonist nor Amanda ever sought, but who shows up nonetheless to entice Amanda with her money and take a sledgehammer to the protagonist's life.

     Western Animation  

  • Sylvester Sneekly from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is Penelope's legal guardian, who secretly plans to do her in as the Hooded Claw so that he can inherit her family fortune.