What is a Ward of the Court?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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A ward of the court is an individual who is unable to care for himself such that the court must assume responsibility for his well-being. In many instances, children whose parents or extended families are unable to care for them become wards of the court. An adult who suffers from some sort of cognitive impairment may also become the responsibility of the court if it is obvious that she is unable to make good decisions about her care and needs. The term is commonly used in the United States, though in the United Kingdom and Ireland the phrased is shortened to ward of court. In Canada, these people are referred to as Crown wards.


Children are often designated wards of the court when their parents either die or become unable to care for them. While the hoped-for resolution in such cases is that grandparents or other family members will step up and assume legal guardianship of the child, there are cases in which there are no family members available or willing to assume that responsibility. When a child has nobody to care for him, he will be made a ward of the court and usually enter the foster care system, although he may eventually be adopted or, in some cases, returned to the care of his parents. Decisions about his schooling, health, and lifestyle are up to the court and its agents. In the United States, a teenager or young adult who is or was a ward of the court is often treated as independent when it comes to receiving federal financial aid for higher education, which can make it easier for him to get student aid money so that he can further his own education.

An adult may become a ward of the court if it can be determined that she lacks the ability to manage her own life because of some type of mental incapacity. In many places, including the United States, it can be very difficult to give an adult this status out of concern for her human rights and liberties. If an adult is made a ward of the court, the court or a court-appointed guardian will take over the management of the adult ward's finances and decisions about medical care and treatment. If the adult ward regains her capacities, she may be able to petition the court to once again assume control over her own life.


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Post 10

@anon162442. Guardianship is being used to control the assets and lives of elders, and it is also being used on children to milk federal dollars. I'm sure that's not true in your case, but it does happen. You'll need to find an attorney who will help you petition the court for removal of the guardian and/or conservator. Or talk to CASA, an organization that supports children and teens in the courts.

Post 9

FYI: Elders with assets can have them taken away for the benefit of others by declaring them wards of the state. This gives court-appointees control over their money which can then be spent to pay for unwanted "services" provided by the court appointees. The elder loses rights to hire an independent attorney to get them out of the situation, and their estates are sometimes bled down to the bone, leaving the elder on medicaid. Their homes are sold off to benefit others, and they are incarcerated in nursing homes.

Post 8

What does it mean when a parent makes a child a ward of the court while they are still alive?

Post 7

How can I reverse a judge's decision that my mom cannot return home and a nasty physician who is adamant in stating my mom is "incapacitated"? That seems to be a dirty four letter word these days for the elderly. They are going to take everything she owns away from her and will not let me be her guardian as they felt I was negligent when she fell outside this May.

I took care of her for the last eight years and I am 63 and soon to be out on the streets from my family home.

Post 6

@StewieG: I am in Alabama also, and my recommendation is to get an attorney who specializes in elder law. You should be able to find one in the Yellow Pages.

It's possible that you can get power of attorney for your mom, which is just a matter of paperwork, and perhaps for your aunt, also, since you're probably her legal next of kin, anyway. But an elder law attorney could advise you of the best way to proceed in this matter. That way, everything you do is legal and binding.

Post 5

My mother has been taking care of her sister's finances (using sister's Social Security to pay bills, nursing home, expenses etc). She is not a legal guardian, trustee or anything other than family.

Her sister (age 73} is uneducated, and suffers from cerebral palsy and has been in the nursing home for past 40-plus years. Now Mother is 85 and failing health (polio, hearing and vision problems) but does not how to transfer responsibility or get her sister made a ward of the court or something like that. Both reside in Alabama.

Post 3

How long do you have to be a ward of the court? Can you take charge of your life at 18 or is it 21?

Hopefully you will be educated enough to make your own decisions that are best for you.

Post 2

@Unhappy: I don't know when this was posted but I hope you have managed to get some help and found a way to get back to your mum. No one in the world should be allowed to keep a child from its parent unless there is a serious risk to the child.

Judging from your age, if there were, you would not want to go back. This kind of thing should not happen. I hope you have found a way back.

Post 1

I've been a ward of the court since i was eight. I'm now sixteen, well seventeen in two months. All i want is to go back to my mother and no one will help me. My lawyer barely keeps in contact and social workers are always changing. I've moved around a lot and i feel as if i can't do anything about it. i feel like my voice isn't being heard.

I honestly despise the courts, cops and anything that has to do with them. i just want to be a normal teenager. i want to go back to my 'Mum.' Please help with any links that could give me more insight on my rights and other things that could help me. thanks. --unhappy

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