High Court stops €1.6m farm sale in care costs case
Judge says Irish farming traditions must be taken into account
The State solicitor for minors and wards of court has been ordered by the High Court to halt the sale of a €1.6m farm owned by an elderly man who has been put in to care.
The farm was put on the market after he was made a ward of court and the elderly sister who cared for him also became unwell. Neither the man (Mr G) nor his sister can be named for legal reasons after he was made a ward of court due to a worsening neurological condition. Both of them have no children or immediate family who could care for them as they aged.
A committee was formed in 2014 to look after their affairs. Their care and medical expenses cost more than €200,000 per year and as money was being used up by care costs the committee decided it was necessary to sell the family farm.
A relative (Mr P) tried to halt the sale saying it would be against the wishes of the owner to see the land leave his family.
The court heard these wishes were shared by the owner's sister.
It was not possible to take the owner's view into account due to his neurological condition and the fact he is a ward of court.
Mr Justice Donald Binchy said he considered farming traditions during his deliberations on the matter. He ruled Mr P, a distant relative, will have to pay for care costs while Mr G and his sister live in order to prevent the land from being sold.
The relative will then be reimbursed when Mr G dies and his estate can be handled as per his will. Legal costs from the court case will also come from Mr G's estate.
"There is a strong tradition in Irish agriculture for families to not sell the land," said Mr Justice Binchy.
"Any funds expended by Mr P in the case of Mr G or on his behalf shall be charged to the lands. Mr P is not seeking to execute the charge on the lands during the lifetime of Mr G."
The court heard the land had been split in to two parcels of approximately 35 acres by the committee and then put on the market in order to achieve a maximum sale value.
However, the judge ordered that the land be removed from the market immediately after Mr P said he was willing to use the €31,000 the farm generates every year through rents and single farm payments, and his own money, to cover the care costs of Mr G and his sister and bills associated with maintaining the estate.
Senior counsel for the committee said it was concerned that Mr P had not yet provided any indemnity to cover costs despite having numerous opportunities to do so.
However, the judge said he was satisfied that Mr G had been cared for sufficiently to date and this was the main priority.
The ruling also means the family member will have access to Mr G's medical records, something that had previously been refused.
"The status quo seems to be very satisfactory to Mr G," said the judge. "That seems to me to be very desirable and if that can be maintained I am happy with that.
"If there are practical issues such as medical records and communication with the ward of court's GP, if Mr P is concerned about the ward of court he should be allowed to pick up the phone."
As part of the ruling Mr P will also have to keep account of funds being spent on Mr G's care and log them with the committee every six months.