Ward of the state refers to a person who is under the legal protection of some arm of the government. It could occasionally mean that a specific court protects the ward, and the term "ward of the court" is sometimes used in the same way. Though it’s common to think of unadopted, parentless or abandoned children or foster children as wards of the state, other people may need protection too. These could include those with mental incapacity or people who are imprisoned, since the latter group is technically under the care of the state and has few rights.
Being someone’s ward means being under someone’s care. The ward of the state is essentially under the state’s care through one or more of its agencies. Such wards might receive financial support from the state, should it be necessary. It’s possible for someone to become a ward because of mental incapacity, even if he or she has money. A person with serious mental illness could come under the state’s care in this way and the government would be able to make decisions about distribution of that person’s money to pursue care and to handle expenses.
In other instances, the ward of the state, like the foster child, has no financial resources. Given this, the state may determine where the person lives. This could mean living in foster or group homes until that person becomes an adult. Through the designated agency, the government makes decisions about education of that child, and the child does not have choice in the matter. The state can also frequently make a permanent custody arrangement for the child via adoption. Once the adoption is official, the child is no longer a ward of the state.
A term that is often mentioned in this context is in loco parentis. This is from the Latin and is used in a legal sense to mean in place of parents. The state essentially stands in loco parentis when a child is in its care. With adoption or even foster parenting, the government may appoint others to act in the place of a parent, too.
There are many countries that designate those in need of guardianship as wards of the state, although the title may be different, depending on the region. The responsibilities of the state or country as guardian are also variable: some states provide significant care and others do very little. Laws in each region tend to define the responsibilities of that governing force, but even with the best intentions, a ward of the state may not receive as much individualized care as a person with a loving parent or family members.
What Does It Mean To Be a Ward of the State
The terms “ward of the state” and “ward of the court” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same thing. In some states, being referred to as a ward of the state means a person has been or currently is incarcerated. However, the use of the term generally refers to an individual who is placed under the guardianship of the state by a court order. The term ward specifically refers to a person that has been placed under the protection or care of a legal guardian, and the individual could be a child, disabled adult or incapacitated senior.
How Does a Child Become a Ward of the State?
A child may become a ward of the state when the court has a reasonable belief that the child is being neglected, abused or is in danger in their current living situation with a parent or guardian. The court removes the child from the situation and places them with a supervising guardian or family member until the situation is resolved or permanent guardianship is requested and granted by an approved family member.
How Does an Adult Become a Ward of the State?
There is no age limit on becoming a ward of the state, and adults who have been deemed incapable of making decisions on their own, incompetent, or incapable of caring for their health and safety may be made a ward of the state. Mental and physical impairments or disabilities are leading factors in having an adult declared incompetent or incapable of self-care, particularly when the care required is more than family members are able to provide.
In most cases, the court will listen to the arguments and appoint a guardian over the individual to make decisions for the ward. The ward’s best interest is the focus of the decision, particularly in regard to finances and medical care. A guardian will often pay the rent or mortgage for an individual, ensure the ward receives healthcare and received eligible benefits from the state.
Are There Any Ward of the State Benefits?
While becoming a ward of the state seems like a sad or ominous condition, being a ward can actually be beneficial to an individual. In fact, there are a few benefits that can come from being a ward of the state.
- Personal interest in the health and well being of an individual who can’t care for himself or herself
- Financial protection and oversight to keep a ward from being taken advantage of
- Possible financial aid or grants for education expenses for children
- Court-approved expenses or compensation for guardianship which prevents at-risk individuals from being scammed out
Who Takes Care of a Ward of the State?
Though a court of law determines when an individual becomes a ward of the state, the court itself does not take the child or individual into care. When a case of incompetence is brought before the court or if a child who needs to be removed from a home is brought before the court, the judge will determine what kind of care is needed for the individual. In the case of abuse, neglect or legal trouble, the child is removed from the home. If it is an elderly adult living in a nursing home, there may be no need to remove the person and the request is to address the financial and healthcare decision-making that needs to be done.
What Is the Difference Between a Guardian and a Conservator?
In both cases, these individuals are court-ordered. These roles are legally able to make decisions on behalf of an individual. For some people, there may only be a need for help with managing the estate or finances, while others could need help making decisions about medical care and daily activities. A guardian has a much broader, the legal scope of decision-making while a conservator is usually limited to paying bills or other financial matters.
How Can You Be Released From Being a Ward of the State?
There are a few instances where a person can have their ward status terminated. The ward status of a person will end if the court is able to find the person in question is no longer incapacitated, which involves a lengthy process of physical and mental testing and a formal hearing before a judge. The status can also be terminated when the individual passes away. For children, the status may end at the age of 18 or when the situation at home is resolved or when adoption occurs.