Ward of court
A person who the courts decided was not able to look after their own affairs before 26 April 2023 was made a ward of court. Decisions were made on their behalf by the court or a person appointed by the court known as the committee.
Since 26 April 2023, applications for adults to become a Ward of Court can no longer be made. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 sets out a new system for helping people who are having difficulty because they have reduced or no capacity. There are various different types of Decision Support Arrangements which depend on your level of capacity at the time the decision has to be made.
Over the next 3 years, adult wards of court will have their cases reviewed by the court and will move over to a new decision support arrangement, if necessary. An application can be made to court by the ward, the ward’s committee or a close relative or friend to have the case reviewed more quickly.
Changes to the Ward of Court system in April 2023
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 will end applications to be made a ward of court from 26 April 2023. This new law provides a detailed legal framework for people who need help to make decisions about their welfare, property and other affairs and who previously may have been made a Ward of Court.
The Act introduces new guiding principles about interacting with a person who has difficulties with their decision-making capacity and establishes a system of decision support arrangements for these people.
Everyone who is currently a ward of court will have their decision-making capacity assessed. The courts will decide whether or not they need a decision supporter.
Within three years, all adult wards of court will be brought under the new legal framework. If a ward is a still a child after that three year period, the decision-making capacity review will happen within six months of turning 18.
The courts service has made a video for wards of court and their committees.
Review process for current wards of court
If you are an adult ward of court, the court will review your case to see if you still need help making decisions on your own. The review will give you:
- An opportunity to be heard by the wardship court when your cases are being reviewed
- Access to representation and legal aid
- A functional assessment of capacity using the new guiding principles that the court will apply
If the wardship court declares that the ward lacks capacity, even with the assistance of co-decision-maker, this declaration will be kept under review afterwards by the Circuit Court.
The Decision Support Service has a reader-friendly document about leaving wardship.
What happens to Wards of Court until the review process is completed
Until the review process is completed, a ward of court on 26 April 2023 will continue to be managed by the Ward of Court office.
The role of the Committee
When a person was made a ward of court, the High Court appointed somebody appropriate to act on their behalf – this person or persons is known as the “committee”. The committee’s powers come from the court. The Committee can only do what the court authorises them to do. The Office of Wards of Court must be kept informed of all actions taken on behalf of the Ward.
The Committee is one of the people who may make the application to court to have the Ward’s capacity reviewed. This will lead to the person being discharged from wardship. The role of the Committee will then end and a new decision-making-arrangement will be put in place. For instance, the Committee may be appointed by the former ward as a decision-making assistant or co-decision-maker. The wardship court may also appoint a former Committee as a decision-making representative.
Managing the Ward’s affairs
While the ward is waiting for the review to be carried out, the duties of the committee and the High Court continue to apply. These duties include:
Providing for dependants
A ward who has dependants has a legal duty to maintain them and the Office of Wards of Court makes arrangements to provide for their maintenance and benefit according to their needs and the ward's means.
Relief and payment of income tax
Wards have the same requirement to submit income tax returns as other taxpayers. However, the return is signed by the committee on behalf of the ward, or by the ward's accountant, if they employed one before being brought into wardship.
The Ward's property
After the President of the High Court made an order bringing a person into wardship they gave directions to bring the ward's assets under the control of the court and make them available for the maintenance and benefit of the ward.
Where it is necessary to sell the Ward’s home to provide for nursing home expenses or to prevent it from being vandalised, the committee will be authorised by the court to put the property on the market.
Banks and building society accounts are usually closed and the proceeds lodged in court.
Buying a house
Property cannot be bought on behalf of a ward as a pure investment.
A property may be bought on behalf of the ward if they
- Have sufficient means
- Are able to reside in the community
- Do not have adequate or suitable accommodation elsewhere
If the ward is in residential care and their dependants need to be housed, property can be bought in the name of the ward for their benefit.
Medical care for Wards
If a Ward needs medical treatment for which a consent form is required by the hospital, the approval of the President of the High Court should be obtained. In emergency cases, it may not be possible to gain approval. In this case, normal medical considerations should apply.
A person who is a ward can marry. Whether that marriage is valid depends on the capacity of the ward at the time of the marriage. Being taken into wardship after marriage does not invalidate that marriage.
Travelling outside Ireland
A ward of court may not leave Ireland without the consent of the High Court. Permission to leave the jurisdiction is normally granted, taking into account medical or safety considerations.
Resuming own affairs
An application by 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 their behalf. The application should be based on medical evidence to the effect that the Ward is now sound of mind and capable of managing their own affairs.
Making a will
Subject to the consent of the Court Office, a ward may make a will if:
- They express the wish to make a will
- There is medical evidence that they are capable of making a valid will
- The solicitor instructed by the ward is satisfied that they are capable of making a valid will
When a ward dies
When a ward dies, after any debts have been paid and when a Grant of Probate or Administration has issued, the estate is distributed according to the ward's will or under the rules of intestate succession.
Organisations that can help
For more information on the Wardship process, you should contact your solicitor.
Alternatively, you can contact: