In a legal context, a ward refers to a person who has been placed under the legal care of an adult Guardian because they have been determined to lack the legal capacity to make decisions for themselves.
The arrangement is meant to ensure the well-being and protection of the ward; a court appointed guardian will make decisions on their behalf personally, medically, financially, and legally.
After a death, guardianship most often applies to minor children who have lost a legal guardian, but the concept can also apply to adults who are deemed incapable of making decisions for themselves due to mental or physical incapacities.
Key points to understand about wards and guardianship include:
Guardian: A guardian is an individual or entity (such as an agency) appointed by a court to act in the Best Interests of the ward. The guardian is responsible for making decisions and protect the ward.
Minor Ward: A minor ward is a child under the legal age of adulthood (usually 18 years old). A parent, relative, or another suitable individual may be appointed as the guardian to care for the minor's needs.
Adult Ward: An adult ward is an individual who has reached the legal age of adulthood but is deemed unable to make decisions due to mental or physical incapacity. This might include individuals with severe cognitive impairments or those with severe medical conditions that affect decision-making.
Guardianship Process: The process of establishing guardianship typically involves a legal proceeding in Probate Court, Family Court, or Surrogates Court (also known as Orphan's Court). The court reviews evidence, such as medical evaluations and testimony, to determine whether the individual requires a guardian. If guardianship is granted, the court defines the scope of the guardian's authority.
Guardianship Duties: The duties of a guardian may include making decisions about the ward's living arrangements, medical treatment, financial management, education, and other significant matters. The guardian is expected to act in the ward's best interests and report to the court regularly.
Limited or Plenary Guardianship: Depending on the individual's level of incapacity, a court might appoint a limited guardian (with specific authority) or a Plenary Guardian (with broad authority) to make decisions on behalf of the ward.
Termination or Modification: Guardianship arrangements can be temporary or permanent, and may be terminated or modified by the court if circumstances change. For example, if an adult ward's condition improves, the court might reevaluate the need for guardianship.
Rights of the Ward: While a guardian has decision-making authority, it's important to note that the rights of the ward are protected by law. Guardians are required to respect the ward's rights and preferences to the extent possible.
After a death, it's possible that guardianship may be needed if the deceased left behind minor children.
If an individual is deemed to need a guardian, the determination will be made through a separate legal process, often before the Probate process.