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From Sohon Drawing


Disease and Health:
Insanity, Smallpox, and General Health Attitudes

"Washington Territory Insanity Laws"

By Errin R. Edlin


Laws of Washington, vol.1; a publication of the session laws of Washington Territory including the general laws and resolutions, etc. Contains the laws and resolutions of the years 1854 to 1861-2, inclusive. 1896: Tribune Printing Co.; Seattle, WA.

Chapter 28: “Relating to Idiots and Insane Persons”
beginning on p.254
Note: I have compiled the various section laws into a more contiguous, easily read format. For the original document, please see the Washington Secretary of State Digital Archives, Classics relating to Territorial and State Government.

The Probate courts may appoint a guardian for ‘idiots’, insane persons, and all those who are incapable of seeing to their own care, to the purpose of managing their property and providing for them and their family’s needs, and the education of their children.

Any person may request an inquiry into the sanity of a person in the county and if the inquiry seems to have good cause the judge shall bring the person before the court to be examined as to their insanity. If the cause is questionable, a jury may be used to determine if the court will proceed with the inquiry.

If it is determined that the person is of unsound mind and unable to manage their affairs, a guardian will be appointed by the court.

Court fees will be paid out of the insane person’s estate or by the county if the estate funds are insufficient. If the person is found to be sane, then court fees will be paid by the person who requested the inquiry.

Guardians for the insane must enter a bond with the county for an amount decided by the court, to guarantee proper care of the insane person and management of their estate, and to carry out the orders of the court and/or law. Within 20 days of being appointed, the guardian must publish notice (in a newspaper if one is available) of their guardianship. The guardian is in charge of the insane person and responsible for keeping them and others safe from their actions, even if necessitating confinement or guard. The guardian must collect all of the insane person’s properties, debts, etcetera. Within 40 days the guardian must file with the court an accurate inventory of the insane person’s real and personal property, income and expenses, debits and credits. If additional properties, etc. are found after the filing of the initial inventory, the guardian is responsible for filing additional inventories to account for these whenever they become apparent. The inventories need to be made in the presence of, and officially witnessed by, at least two “credible witnesses of the neighborhood”. The guardian must also prosecute all actions commenced by or for the ward and defend actions brought against them. Guardians must also collect and settle all debts and accounts for their ward.

The probate court has power over the person and estate of the insane person for the purpose of providing for the insane person, their family, or their children’s education and may keep property set aside regardless of debt for the purpose of providing for the family or estate, and/or may sell, rent, or auction property, etc. for the purpose of settling debts or providing for the insane person, their family, or their children’s education. When the insane person’s estate is insufficient to meet the debts or needs of themselves, their family, or the education of their children, the guardian must present this to be the case with documentation of all properties, debts, etc. and it will be the duty of the court to direct the guardian in the sale, lease, or mortgage of part or the whole of the estate as necessary. The court will decide the time and terms of such actions, and how the proceeds should be applied, and it is the guardian’s duty to carry out these orders and provide documentation of such, as well as documentation that they in no way obtained the property for themselves or otherwise gained personally by its disposition. In the sale of property, the court has the right to execute a deed, mortgage, or other document as necessary on behalf of the ward. If the proceedings are determined unjust, the court may disregard said proceedings or claims of sale and continue on as if no sale was made.

The guardian must provide an accurate accounting of their guardianship as often as the court requires.

Insane persons may not be held accountable in civil cases or held in bail or for other actions, instead their guardian shall be served for the process. Judgments against the ward may only be settled on the ward’s estate and never against the insane person’s body (ie. no corporal punishment), nor that of the guardian or the guardian’s estate unless the guardian has in some way rendered themselves liable.

When the court receives word that the ward has regained sanity, they shall immediately inquire into the matter and if indeed the ward has regained sanity, their will be discharged from the care and custody of the court and their guardian. The guardian must immediately settle the wards accounts and return all remaining properties, etc. and the proceeds thereof, to the ward.

In case of the death of a ward, the guardian shall lose power, and the estate shall be handled as it would be for any sane person. The guardian must immediately settle the accounts of the deceased and deliver all properties, etc. to the legal representatives of the deceased.

The probate court may remove a guardian at any time for negligence, mismanagement, or disobedience of a lawful order and appoint another guardian in their place. The previous guardian must immediately settle the accounts and deliver all properties, etc. of the ward to the new guardian.

All of the expenses of caring for the insane person and their estate shall be taken out of their estate or the proceeds thereof, and if that be insufficient, out of the county treasury. If the insane person’s estate is insufficient to care for them and their family, they shall be provided for by whatever provisions the territory has made for care of paupers and the court shall issue an order to the ‘overseer of the poor’ requiring them to take charge of the insane person in accordance with the laws for the relief of paupers. The overseer shall have the power to arrest and confine the insane person if necessary, until the next session of the board of county commissioners, who will then ‘dispose’ of the insane person as seems ‘right and proper’ and “consistent with the principles of humanity and justice,” (sec.373 Laws of Washington Territory vol.1, p.257). When the county must pay for the care of an insane person, the cost of care may be recovered from any person bound by law to care for the insane person, if they are able to pay it.

The father or mother of the insane person may care for them at their own charge if they are able, and if not, then the children, grandchildren, or grandparents may do so if they are able.