Wards of Court
When a person becomes unable to manage his or her assets because of mental incapacity, an application can be made to the Court for this person to become a Ward of Court. The Court must make a decision as to whether the person is capable of managing his or her own property for his or her own benefit and the benefit of his or her dependents. If it is decided that the person cannot manage his or her own property because of mental incapacity, a committee is appointed to control the assets on the Ward’s behalf. The committee is normally made up of close relations of the person. A person under the age of eighteen years may also be taken into wardship as a minor.
To be made a Ward of Court, the Court must be satisfied that the person is of unsound mind and incapable of managing his or her own affairs. In some cases, a person can be taken into wardship for his or her own protection. This would normally arise in the case of a person with mental disability rather than a psychiatric illness.
How a person becomes a Ward of Court
The usual application procedure involves a person, called “the Petitioner” asking the High Court to hold an enquiry as to whether the proposed Ward called (the “Respondent”) is of unsound mind and capable of managing his or her person or property. The application is a formal written submission to the Court. Applications are normally made by a family member.
The person making the application must include the opinion of two doctors who do not have to be psychiatrists.
When the petition is received by the President of the High Court, he will decide whether or not to conduct an enquiry. If an enquiry is ordered, the proposed ward is examined by a doctor sent by the High Court who will then provide his own opinion, as to whether the Ward is capable of managing his or her own affairs.
The petition must be served on the Ward who is then entitled to object to the enquiry being made or demand that it be held before a jury. The Ward must sign the objection notice and there will then be a hearing. The hearing is before the President of the High Court and there maybe a jury if the judge so decides.
The Wards Property
The appointed committee acts on behalf of the Ward and gives directions to bring the Wards assets under the control of the Court and make them available for his or her maintenance and benefit. The home of the Ward, maybe be sold to provide for nursing home expenses. The committee must seek the authority of the Court, to sell property. Bank and Building Society Accounts are usually closed and the proceeds of those accounts lodged in Court, and they will be invested by the Accountants of the Court office in appropriate investments. Property can only be bought on behalf of the Ward in certain circumstances as an investment because it does not at present by law constitute an authorised trustee security. Property may be bought on behalf of the Ward if the Ward is able to reside in the community and has sufficient means and if the Ward does not have adequate or suitable accommodation. If the Ward is in residential care and his or her dependants need to be housed, property can be bought in the name of the Ward for their benefit.
A person who is a Ward because of mental incapacity cannot marry although being taken into wardship after marriage does not invalidate that marriage.
A Ward of Court may not leave Ireland without the consent of the President of the High Court. In practice, permission to leave is normally granted taking into account medical or safety considerations.
An application for a Ward to be discharged from wardship must be made to the Registrar of Wards of Court in writing by the Ward or by a Solicitor on his or her behalf. The application will be based upon medical evidence to the effect that the Ward is now of sound mind and capable of managing his or her own affairs.
A Ward may make a will if he or she expresses the wish to make a will or if there was medical evidence to the affect that he or she is capable of making a valid will or the Solicitor instructed by the Ward is satisfied that he or she is capable of making a valid will.
When a Ward dies after any debts have been paid and when a Grant of Probate or Administration is issued the estate is distributed in accordance with the Ward’s will or under the rules of Intestate Succession.
David Walley & Company, has acted on behalf of many clients, in assisting families applying to make a relation a Ward of Court. The decision to do so, is usually only made by family members who have no other options available to them. It is usually a decision made after the family have consulted each other, and have taken advice on the consequences of the application. We act on behalf of a number of Wardship committees and we can offer sound and common sense advice to families with a sensitivity and understanding of the difficulties clients face, in making a decision to proceed to Wardship