Ward of Court
A Ward of Court is the term used for a person who is deemed by the courts to be unable to look after their affairs and has somebody appointed to do so on their behalf.
You can be made a Ward of Court because of:
- Mental incapacity, or
If a person is under 18, the court may decide they need to become a ward for a particular reason, such as their own protection.
If you think somebody you know is unable to manage their affairs, check if the person has made an enduring power of attorney document. An enduring power of attorney states who has authority to make decisions for them.
If there is no enduring power of attorney, you should contact a solicitor to begin the process to have the person made a Ward of Court. For more information on the application procedure, see ‘How an adult becomes a Ward of Court’ below.
The Assisted Decision-Making Capacity Act 2015 and changes to the Ward of Court system
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 will abolish the current Ward of Court system when fully in operation. This new law provides a legal framework for people who need help to make decisions about their welfare, property and other affairs.
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.
The Act is not fully in operation (commenced) yet. When it is, people will no longer be able to become Wards of Court. Everyone who is currently a Ward of Court will have their capacity assessed and brought under the new legal framework within 3 years of commencement of the Act. These changes are expected in the coming months.
Read more about the changes proposed in the act.
These videos from the HSE explain more about the new assisted decision making framework.
How an adult becomes a Ward of Court
The vast majority of Wardship applications concern mental incapacity. If you think somebody you know is no longer able to manage their affairs, you should try to check whether the person has made an enduring power of attorney. If they have, that document will specify who has authority to make decisions on their behalf. If there is no enduring power of attorney, you should contact a solicitor to take the necessary steps to have the person made a Ward of Court.
Alternatively, if you do not wish to be involved in the application yourself, you should write to the Registrar of Wards of Court asking for the necessary steps to be taken. In either case, information must be provided about the medical condition, next-of-kin, assets and income of the prospective Ward.
Originating Petition of Inquiry
In general, an application for Ward of Court, known as an “Originating Petition for Inquiry”, is submitted to the High Court on behalf of a relative or spouse of the proposed Ward, who becomes known as the "Petitioner".
The Petition must be accompanied by 2 medical reports from 2 independent doctors confirming that the proposed Ward is of unsound mind. In reviewing the Petition, the High Court can order that the proposed Ward be subject to a further medical examination by a court-appointed doctor.
The role of Committee
If it is determined that a person should be made a Ward of Court, the High Court will appoint somebody appropriate to act on their behalf – this person or persons becomes known as the “Committee”. The court may appoint the original Petitioner to act as Committee but is not obliged to do so.
However, the Committee’s powers come from the court. The Committee can only do what the court authorises and the Office of Wards of Court must be kept informed of all actions taken on behalf of the Ward.
In certain circumstances, a person may also be taken into Wardship for their own protection.
How a minor becomes a Ward of Court
When a person is under 18 years of age and is awarded damages, the money is paid into the court and invested on the minor's behalf until they reach the age of 18. People in this category are not Wards of Court. If, however, the minor has special housing or care needs, they may be taken into Wardship as a minor.
If a house is bought for the minor, it is registered in their name. When they reach the age of 18 years, provided they are of full mental capacity, they can apply to the High Court for payment of any funds held on their behalf.
How to object to becoming a Ward of Court
Notice of the application must be served to the proposed Ward.
A proposed Ward is entitled to object to the application by writing to the Registrar of Wards of Court, usually, though not necessarily, through a solicitor.
Managing the Ward’s affairs
Providing for dependants
A Ward who has dependants has a legal duty to maintain them and the Office of Wards of Court will make 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 but 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 principal tax reliefs are where exemption is granted by the Chief Inspector of Taxes under Section 189 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and medical expenses.
The Ward's property
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 because this does not at present constitute an Authorised Trustee Security.
A property may be bought on behalf of the Ward if the Ward:
- Has sufficient means
- Is able to reside in the community, and
- Does 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 because of mental incapacity 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.
How to apply
For more information on the Wardship process, you should contact your solicitor.
Alternatively, you can contact: