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What Is an Adult Ward of the State?

By Leslie Bloom - Updated December 30, 2018
Disabled man receives assistance

Not all adults have the ability to care for themselves. Whether from disability, disease or age, some adults are unable to make their own decisions without help. They can become adult wards of the state when this happens. Adult wards of the state don't have adult family members who are willing or able to serve as guardians. Guardians are instead appointed by the court from local government agencies to make decisions for them.

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An adult must be deemed incompetent by the court to become an adult ward of the state. In the absence of a family member who can serve as a guardian, the state will appoint a guardian to make decisions for the adult ward.

Becoming an Adult Ward of the State

The adult in question must be deemed incompetent by a court to become a ward of the state. Either the adult or another adult family member must file an application with the court for this to occur. In most states, a hearing is held that includes review of an assessment that evaluates the person’s competency or lack of it.

If the court determines that the adult is incompetent and that there are no suitable family members to act as guardians, the judge will appoint a state guardian. State guardians come from local human services agencies such as county departments of social services, mental health agencies, health departments and county departments for the aging.

Most states allow both voluntary and involuntary guardianships. Adults who are mentally competent but incapable of handling their estates independently can ask for voluntary guardianships. Involuntary guardianships are based on adjudication of incompetence by the court, which means that the ward of the state has no say in the appointment of a guardian.

An adult ward of the state is protected by law after she's deemed incompetent. The guardian has control over all monetary and property decisions, so it's difficult for someone to take advantage of her. The adult ward also knows that there is a guardian looking out for her best interests, and that the guardian is required to do so by law.

What a Guardian Does

The appointed guardian provides services to maintain the person’s well being. Although he's no considered a caretaker, the guardian helps the ward make decisions and give consent.

The guardian can make decisions about where the person will live and, in some cases, manage his finances. If the ward has significant financial holdings, the court might appoint a conservator as well to deal just with the ward's finances.

The guardian can authorize medical treatment for the adult ward of the state. The guardian makes sure that any caretakers are properly caring for the ward, and he helps him handle his personal affairs. The guardian must also be an advocate for a ward to make sure his best interests are always met.

The guardian must typically file periodic status reports with the court and provide ongoing casework to the individual, his family and his caregivers. These reports typically include the mental and physical status of the ward, where he's living and how his personal affairs are being handled. These reports let the court know the status of the adult ward of state and whether any changes should be made to the guardianship status, including terminating it.

Duration of Adult Ward Status

When someone becomes an adult ward of the state, there are only a few situations where that status terminates. Ward status ends if the court determines that the person is no longer incapacitated or that it’s in the best interest of the person to remove the guardianship. Otherwise, the status of an adult ward of the state lasts until the ward dies.

It’s such a long-term commitment that the court aims to ensure that the adult actually needs to become a ward of the state. It does this through a thorough assessment and hearing that takes the adult’s mental and physical health and abilities into account. If the ward’s mental and physical status improves to the point where she can handle her own affairs once again, the court-appointed guardianship can be terminated upon a hearing.

It can be helpful to have an attorney walk you through the process of having someone become an adult ward of the state. This helps ensure that all important matters are handled correctly and that the requirements of your particular state are met.

About the Author

Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.

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