Karen Walsh: Consequences when a farmer is diagnosed with dementia

Wardship may be only way to access accounts, advises Karen Walsh.

My father was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago. He needs full time care. He is now no longer capable of running the farm and managing his affairs. I understand that he may have to be made a Ward of Court. What does this mean? What does it involve?

If a person becomes mentally incapacitated, all of their assets and property are normally frozen and cannot be used or accessed by anyone else, unless they are jointly owned, or someone has created an Enduring Power of Attorney to deal with their property or money.

An Enduring Power of Attorney could have been created by your father before he became mentally incapacitated, and would have allowed him to specifically appoint a person to look after his welfare and to deal with his property, without involving the Courts to the same extent required in having him made a Ward of Court.

Once a person becomes of unsound mind, an Enduring Power of Attorney cannot be created.

If an Enduring Power of Attorney was not created by your father while he was of sound mind, the only other way to access his accounts and deal with his property on his behalf is to make him a Ward of Court.

The main purpose of wardship is to look after the welfare and to protect the property of a person who no longer has the capacity to do so.

The Office of the Wards of Court is responsible for administering this process.

The spplication procedure involves the person applying to the High Court to hold an enquiry into whether the proposed Ward is of unsound mind and incapable of managing his or her person or property.

An application called a petition is normally made by a family member.

It must include the opinion of two doctors.

The President of the High Court then decides whether or not to conduct an inquiry.

If one is ordered, then the proposed ward is examined by a doctor sent by the High Court.

The proposed ward is entitled to object to the application by writing to the Registrar of the Wards of Court, usually through a solicitor. This protects the proposed ward.

If your father is made a Ward of Court, the court may appoint a committee to deal with his personal affairs.

The committee means the person into whose care the ward is committed, and is usually the person who makes the application.

Once the person is taken into wardship, a case officer from the Office of Wards of Court will be appointed, and the committee must correspond with the case officer in relation to the management of the ward’s affairs.

When a person is made a Ward of Court, his or her assets are brought under the control of the court, and made available for the ward’s maintenance and benefit.

Where it is necessary to sell property to provide for nursing home expenses, the committee may be authorised by the court to put the property on the market.

Where a farm is let, the court would usually permit the committee to receive the letting income, and use it for the ward’s benefit.

Bank accounts are usually closed, and the proceeds are lodged in court.

Regular payments can be made to the committee or other person looking after the ward, to meet the ward’s living expenses.

The committee acts under the directions of the court and may be permitted by the court to carry out functions, and will be responsible for attending to the ward’s day-to-day affairs.

The committee is required to account to the Office of the Wards of Court for all funds received and payments made by him or her in relation to the ward.

On the death of a ward, the ward’s property remaining after the payment of debts and costs is distributed among the people entitled to it either in accordance with the ward’s will, or the rules of intestacy where there is no will.

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