*(the law, practice and procedure in this area is due to change following the enactment of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 – further details can be obtained by contacting the solicitors below).
1. What is a Ward of Court?
A Ward of Court is the term used for a person who due to incapacity is not able to look after their affairs and a Committee is appointed to do so. The incapacity may be mental incapacity or incapacity due to age (minors under 18). A person is made a Ward of Court by making an application to the Office of the Wards of Court.
2. When is it necessary to make an application to make a person a Ward of Court?
It will be necessary to make an application to have a person made a Ward of Court in two situations. The first situation is where a person is no longer capable to look after their own affairs and his or her dependants due to mental incapacity.
The second situation arises where a person is under the age of 18 and for a variety of reasons may need to be taken into Wardship. The most common reasons for taking a minor into Wardship is if the minor has received a substantial award of damages and the minor has a special housing or care need, the money will be paid into court and invested on behalf of the minor until they reach 18.
3. How do you make an application in relation to a Ward of Court?
An application is made to the High Court and it is referred to as a petition. The person making the application is known as the petitioner. The petition must be accompanied by two medical reports from two independent doctors confirming that the person to be made a Ward of Court is of unsound mind.
The High Court may then choose to carry out an inquiry, this would involve the potential Ward of Court being examined by a doctor sent by the High Court.
If it is determined that the person should be made a Ward of Court, the High Court will appoint a Committee for the Ward. The Committee will normally be the petitioner but not always.
4. Who should make the application for the Ward of Court?
Normally a family member will make the petition to the High Court. If the High Court grants the application to have a person made a Ward of Court the petitioner will normally be made the Ward’s Committee.
The Court has a discretion to decide who should be the Ward’s Committee and may appoint someone to act in this capacity if they do not deem the petitioner to be appropriate. The Court may also appoint a person to act with the petitioner to act as the Ward’s Committee, as the Court sees fit.
The Committee will be responsible for looking after and managing the affairs of the Ward of Court in conjunction with the Office of the Wards of Court. Each Ward of Court will have a case officer assigned to it in the Office of the Wards of Court and the Committee will liaise with the case officer regarding the affairs of the Ward of Court.
5. What happens to the Ward’s property?
When a person is made a Ward of Court their assets are taken into control by the Court to be used for their benefit and the benefit of their dependants. Any money lodged into Court will be invested for the benefit of the Ward of Court.
The funds will be applied for the Ward of Court as deemed fit by the Ward’s Committee in conjunction with the Ward’s case officer.
6. What provision will be made for any dependants of a Ward of Court?
If a Ward has dependants the Office of the Wards of Court will arrange to provide for their maintenance in accordance with their needs and requirements and with respect to the Ward’s means.
7. Can a person object to an application to be made a Ward of Court?
Yes, if a petition is made to make an individual a Ward of Court, a copy of the petition must be served on them personally. At this time the person who is the subject of the application may send an objection notice to the High Court and there will be a Court hearing before the President of the High Court and the matter will be determined.
8. Can a Ward of Court have the Order discharged if they become capable?
A Ward may apply to the Registrar of the Wards of Court to have the order discharged or this may be done by a Solicitor on the Wards behalf. It will be necessary to provide medical evidence with the application to demonstrate that the Ward is now of sound disposing mind and capable of managing their own affairs.
9. What happens on the death of a Ward of Court?
When the Ward dies, the Committee should notify the case officer assigned to the Ward as soon as possible. The Committee will need to submit a statement of affairs of the Ward to the Office of the Wards of Court, this will include details of all assets and debts of the Ward. All funeral expenses will be paid out of the Ward’s assets and then the estate will be distributed in accordance with the Ward’s Will or if the Ward did not have a Will, the estate will be distributed to the Ward’s next of kin in accordance with the law.
10. Are there any alternatives to an application for a Ward of Court?
Where a person, prior to becoming mentally incapacitated has put in place what is called an Enduring Power of Attorney it will not be necessary to apply to have that person made a Ward of Court. In this instance the person who has been made the Power of Attorney will be entitled to manage the affairs of the party who has become mentally incapacitated.
Please see Enduring Power of Attorney for further information.