Delving into the captivating world of legal terminology, the phrase "of sound mind and body" undoubtedly emerges as a key player. Frequently, individuals grapple with the intricate "sound mind meaning." This article is specifically designed to guide you towards a comprehensive understanding of this term, its implications in legal procedures, and particularly, its relevance in estate planning.

Shedding Light on "Sound Mind Meaning"

In general terms, being "of sound mind" reflects an individual's mental capacity to comprehend their surroundings and make significant decisions that directly impact themselves and their family.

Being of sound mind implies the following:

Notably, the question of whether a person was of sound mind at the time they created their will often arises when someone contests the will. Establishing that the deceased was not of sound mind can indeed be a complex challenge.

The Concept of Non Compos Mentis: Contrasting Sound Mind

In contrast, 'non compos mentis' serves as the legal term that signifies a state of not being of sound mind. Before drafting a power of attorney or a will, a lawyer typically requires a written confirmation from a doctor, indicating that a person is non compos mentis.

Non compos mentis is frequently implicated in situations such as:

Steps Towards Safeguarding Your Loved Ones

Accepting that a loved one is no longer of sound mind is a difficult and daunting reality for any family. However, if you suspect a family member is non compos mentis, there are proactive steps you can take:

  1. Engage the expertise of an estate law attorney.
  2. Establish a power of attorney to safeguard your loved one.
  3. Regularly monitor the mental wellbeing of your loved one.

Facing the reality that a loved one is no longer of sound mind is a heart-wrenching experience. Given that wills and estates can be modified at any time, it underscores the urgency of securing legal help for a family member who is not of sound mind. At their most vulnerable, a proficient attorney can offer invaluable protection, preventing potential exploitation of your family member.


The public assistance available to a person with ongoing medical needs, or an individual who struggles with intellectual disabilities, can be vital to their well-being. However, your concern over a loved one's eligibility for funds can interfere with your desires to help them financially. A Special Needs Trust can be set up to provide meaningful financial support while not interfering with public assistance. This trust can be established on someone's behalf, but it is also possible for you to create a trust for yourself. With that said, if you want to set up your own trust, it must be managed by another party. If someone has control over the distribution of their trust, it can interfere with their claim for public assistance.

A Special Needs Trust Can Help the Beneficiary (Without Interfering With Public Assistance)

The goal in setting up a Special Needs Trust is to supply income to a person receiving public assistance, without damaging their claim to assistance. The trust typically covers expenses that help improve a person's quality of life in multiple ways. It is not meant to address the sort of costs that might be addressed through Medicaid, Medicare, or another public assistance fund. It can be used for medical costs that are not being covered by these funds, and it can also make it easier for someone to enjoy leisure and cultural activities that improve their daily life.

What Can a Special Needs Trust Provide?

A Special Needs Trust is meant to make a person's life better by providing financial support that does not intrude on assistance. You could consider these funds a way to cover the cost of luxury items, or a way to pay for support that public benefits normally refuse to provide.

When it comes to paying for food and housing, a Special Needs Trust can affect some of what a person earns from government assistance. In fact, you may discover that this loss is relatively minor compared to the amount of support your Special Needs Trust is able to give. An attorney with experience establishing these trusts can help you navigate the potential costs and consequences of providing support for dining out, or for rent.

Establishing a Trustee for a Special Needs Trust

A Special Needs Trust can be flexible with respect to what it covers, but it needs to be clear that the beneficiary is NOT in control of their trust. Even if the beneficiary is the person creating the Special Needs Trust, a trustee must be responsible for distribution of funds. If a beneficiary (or a person acting on their behalf) is able to amend the distribution of funds, or if they receive direct cash, their eligibility for public assistance will be compromised.

Putting a Lump Sum Award into a Special Needs Trust

A lump sum award can help improve your life significantly after an injury, but it can also interfere with your public benefits. Turning this sum into a Special Needs Trust can allow you to keep it, and preserve access to assistance. A legal expert can help you navigate this situation so that your award provides help to you over the years while you also collect your benefits.


Estate planning is often a legal and accounting device people use to take advantage of certain tax breaks and protect their heirs from heavy estate taxes. While it is true that estate planning can help anyone to get the tax breaks that are available, there are plenty of non-tax reasons for estate planning. Many of these non-tax reasons can be critical to the financial future of your family.

Establishing An Administrator

In your will, which is part of your estate planning, you establish who you want as your estate administrator. This is important because if the probate court assigns your administrator, then you could get someone who does not share your views on how your assets should be distributed. You also want an administrator who understands the process to make everything easier on your family.

Distribution Of Assets

The distribution of assets from the estate of a deceased individual is not always a given. If the expenses of the estate outweigh the assets, then there will be no assets left to distribute to beneficiaries. If you have an array of assets that includes investments and real estate, then it is important to outline in your estate planning how you want your assets distributed after you have passed on. The distribution of assets is one of the most important non-tax functions of estate planning.

Establish Any Charities

Without a properly structured estate, it would be impossible for you to have any kind of charitable organization created with your assets. It would also be extremely difficult for any charity that you worked for to receive any kind of donation, even if you verbally made the commitment while you were alive. Establishing a charity must be done through estate planning, because that will give the probate court all of your ideas on how you want the charity to be created and how much you want to use to fund it.

Protection Of Assets

Estate planning has many benefits for you while you are still alive. For one, a good estate planner can set up a variety of methods to protect your assets from creditors, court judgments, and Medicaid. This protection of assets can be critical if you are very concerned about making sure that your family is financially secure after you have passed on. Protection of assets also prevents anyone from trying to scam your family with a shady lawsuit.

Medicaid Planning

As part of the elder law practice of an estate planner, you can choose to get a jumpstart on your Medicaid application process. It is an extremely complicated process and the sooner you get started on it, the more of your assets you can protect and the easier you will make it on your family.

Estate planning is done for many reasons and for any type of individual or family. You do not need to have significant financial resources to enjoy the benefits of estate planning. Actually, it can be said that it makes good sense to protect what assets you do have and the future of your family with the services of an estate planner.


Throughout your lifetime, you do what you can to provide for your family and make sure that there is plenty of happiness in everyone's lives. When you pay that much attention to your family when you are alive, it becomes a bit frustrating to think that all of the happiness you tried to create could disappear when you pass away. But there are ways of preventing your family from erupting into an estate battle after you die and do your part to preserve family harmony.

Power of Attorney / Health Care Proxy

You are concerned about your estate after you have passed away, but chaos could break out sooner than that if you become incapacitated from an accident or illness. When you become incapacitated and no longer able to make your own decisions, you want to have people in place to make decisions for you that you and the family trust. A power of attorney will allow someone you choose to make financial and business decisions for you, while a health care proxy will give a trusted individual the ability to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to.

A Will

You should make an appointment to talk with an estate planning expert to discuss your will. With your will, you can outline all of your final wishes when it comes to the distribution of your assets. Your will is also where you will choose an administrator of your estate. This is the person who will take care of all of the court orders regarding your estate and make any decisions regarding the use of your assets to satisfy estate debts. A will is the framework you can use to make sure that everything you want to see happen with your estate is executed exactly as your family would expect.

A Trust

If you have considerable assets, then your estate planner might recommend putting together a trust instead of using a will. A trust does not have to go through probate, and the transfer of assets to beneficiaries happens automatically, in most cases. A trust also allows you to help your family avoid estate taxes which, if you have an estate that reaches or goes beyond the estate tax minimums, could be considerable.

Life Insurance

Most people forget that when they pass away, their estate is responsible for paying their final debts. If all of the assets of your estate are used to pay final debts, then there will be nothing to distribute to beneficiaries. A good life insurance policy making your spouse or estate administrator the beneficiary can pay off all of your estate debts and leave your assets untouched. This would allow your assets to be distributed as you point out in your will and avoid estate battles.

No one wants to leave their family in a position where there could be a battle over estate assets after they pass away. With the help of a qualified estate planner, you can be sure that your final wishes are carried out to the satisfaction of all of your heirs and beneficiaries.


Estate planning is something that people tend to ignore, especially younger people who have no children to provide for. When you ask these people about preparing their will, they will often bristle at the idea and wonder why they would even have to worry about it if they do not have children. The truth is that the fate of your estate is something you should always be concerned with, even if you have no immediate heirs to consider.

Why Worry About It?

If you do not take care of estate planning before you pass away, even if you are young, then the state will decide what happens to your assets. You might think that you have no assets, but what about that vintage guitar you told your best friend he could have if anything ever happened to you? Your verbal promises are not going to stand up in probate court after you have passed away. You need to put it all in writing with an estate planner.

Family Members

Even if you do not have children, there is a very good chance that you have other family members you would like to provide for if you pass away. Siblings, cousins, parents, aunts, uncles, and even grandparents might all need some sort of help that you could provide if you put an estate together before you passed away. The best part about estate planning is that you can change everything when you do have kids. But in the meantime, at least you will know that your assets will go someplace where they are needed.

Organizations You Cherish

Many people become involved with their colleges after they graduate as part of alumni groups doing fundraising and various other functions. Putting together an estate immediately after you have graduated from college can ensure that some or all of your assets go towards your beloved alumni organization.

If you managed to start a business in your youth or get involved in a charitable organization, then you might want to have your assets used to provide for those groups after you have passed away. Just because you have no children does not mean that your assets cannot go to some organization or person who needs them.

Start Your Legacy

When you do estate planning early in life, you can establish a legacy that will last for years if you pass away early and unexpectedly. You could use estate planning to create a small college fund each year for students at your high school, or you could create a fund to help members of your family who have special needs.

If you have always wanted to leave a legacy behind, then you have to consider the possibility that you may not be alive long enough to create a legacy. But with estate planning at an early age, you can make sure that your ideas and good deeds live on for years after you have passed away.

Unfortunately, most people who do not have children see little need for estate planning. If you do not make provisions for your assets after you have passed away, no matter what age you may be, then your estate will be at the mercy of your state's probate court. The easiest way to avoid your estate being mishandled by the government is to create an estate when you can and create the guidelines that will be used to distribute your assets after you have passed away.

Religion and faith are very important to people around the world, and many people want their faith to be reflected in their final wishes. Estate planning can be adapted to make sure that someone's final wishes also reflect their religious beliefs and their desire to have religion be a part of their family's life after they have passed on.

Find The Right Estate Planner

When you have special requests such as aligning your estate with your religious views, then you want to hire an expert estate planner with plenty of experience in creating those kinds of provisions. You want to be sure that your final wishes are clearly expressed in your estate planning, and you want to be sure that any provisions you are making for religious organizations are done properly as well.

Distributing Your Financial Assets

There are several ways that you can have the distribution of your financial assets match your ethical and religious values. Some people take out life insurance policies that name their church as the benefactor. This can be an excellent way of spending a little money each month to leave your church a large gift after you pass away.

While many people leave money for their churches or civic groups, they also put conditions on those gifts. If you want to be sure that the money you donate is used properly, then you can outline in your estate exactly how the money should be used. This allows you to be sure that the money you leave behind does not get used in ways that conflict with your ethical values.

Leaving Real Estate

People of means who are active in their local church often leave gifts of real estate behind to help their church reach certain goals. If the church wants to build a new soup kitchen, then a member of the church might leave the real estate to do so in their final wishes.

When you leave real estate to your church, you should outline exactly what the land is for. Just as you do not want the money you leave the church to be misappropriated, you also don't want real estate to be used for something that goes against your values.

A Charitable Trust

A charitable trust allows you to donate to your favorite religious group while building assets that will be paid to that group after you have passed away. The income generated by a charitable trust is distributed to your organization of choice tax free for a pre-determined period of time. Once the trust payments to the charity have expired, the trust reverts back to the donor's surviving family members.

Many people become active members of their church and develop strong ethical beliefs that they want to provide for after they have passed on. With the help of an experience estate planner, you can make sure that you provide for your favorite church or charity and even set aside a life insurance policy that will help keep your church going after you have passes away.

A trust is something often associated with wealthy people, but any person or family can create a trust to protect the family's assets. One of the more significant benefits of a trust is that the assets can be passed on to surviving family members when one member passes away without going through the time-consuming process of probate. There are other reasons for using this type of legal structure, but it is first important to understand how this type of legal vehicle is put into place.

Revocable And Irrevocable Trusts

The first step is to decide what type of trust is best for your situation. The two most common options are revocable and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows you to protect your assets and leave instructions to a trustee to distribute your assets after you have passed away. The trustee would also be the person who executes your decisions for your assets while you are alive. In a revocable trust, you still own your assets.

An irrevocable option is its own entity that takes over ownership of your assets once you make them part of the trust. You set up the trust in the way that best fits your needs, and then you give up all ownership of your assets when you place them within this legal structure. Some states allow you to make changes to an irrevocable trust, but those changes must be approved by the courts. The biggest benefit to an irrevocable trust is that any income generated by your assets is generated tax-free.

Setting Up The Structure

Once you decide what type of trust you want, you then go about creating the rules by which the trust will be run. This means assigning a trustee, designating beneficiaries, and determining all of the administrative action that will make up the trust's legal structure. All of the members of the trust must agree to these rules, and they also must agree to allow the trustee to run the trust as they see fit.

Assigning Your Assets

With your structure in place, it is time to assign assets to your trust. Once you assign an asset to the trust, all legal actions for that property are done on behalf of the trust. You can assign any assets to a trust you want, but you need to be sure that you want an asset under the direction of the trust before you assign it. Once you put an asset into a trust, it is a long and complicated process to remove it. In the case of an irrevocable trust, you may not be able to remove the asset at all.

A trust can be extremely complicated, which is why you should utilize the services of an experienced professional. Once you choose the person to create your trust, you will spend a great deal of time formulating the paperwork that will determine the future of your assets.

When a loved one passes away, there can be a certain level of anticipation when it comes to the reading of the will. But the distribution of assets after someone has passed away does not happen like it does in the movies or on television. There is a process regarding the debts of the deceased that has to be followed before any beneficiaries get anything from the estate.

Assigning An Administrator

When someone passes away, their estate goes into the probate court process to take care of debts and distribute assets. The first step for the probate court is to establish an administrator for the estate. If the deceased has named an administrator in their will, then the courts will determine if that person is a suitable administrator. If there is no will or no administrator has been named, then the courts will name one.

The probate court needs an administrator as someone who makes decisions regarding the estate and executes the actions of the court. Once an administrator has been named, family members can still challenge that administrator in court for various reasons.

Establishing Debts

Once the administrator is in place, the probate court will then start the process of taking care of debts of the estate. In most states, there is a priority list when it comes to debts that puts credit card debt at the very bottom. The court will reach out to all of the companies and people that are officially listed as being owed money by the deceased, and then start putting together a priority list for paying those debts back. Sometimes the debts are offered to be paid in full, but in most cases companies have to take a portion of the debt to settle the account.

Matching Up Debts And Assets

The probate court will set a deadline for all creditors to file for payment, and then put together an overall debt picture for the administrator. The administrator will then indicate how much the estate has in assets, which includes any assets that have not yet been liquidated, and compare that to the debts. The courts will then set a priority list for paying back the debts and start using the assets to pay back creditors. Once the estate runs out of cash, the remaining assets will be liquidated to pay as much of the debt as possible.

Finalizing Debt

The probate court will work with the estate administrator to finalize all of the debts of the deceased. If the debts were handled in full, then any remaining assets will be distributed according to the deceased's will or the probate court ruling. If there are no remaining assets, then the probate court closes the estate without distributing anything to the beneficiaries.

If the estate runs out of funds before paying back all debts, then some creditors will not receive any payment. Creditors that do not receive payment can petition the court to try and get something for the debt, but in most cases these creditors are forced to close the accounts and absorb the remaining balance.


The loss of a loved one is a traumatic moment that can be a difficult time for the entire family. Unfortunately, there are arrangements you need to make immediately upon a loved one's death that can cut your grieving time short. The most important legal issue to take care of is finalizing the arrangements for your loved one's estate. This process can be more challenging if your loved one did not have a will of any kind.

What Is A Will?

A will is a legal document that your loved one would have created with the help of a legal expert and had kept on file. When your loved one passes away, their will provides the family with the information necessary to help the estate to go through probate court. Without a will, the laws of the state would dictate the entire process.

What Is Probate?

The probate court system is a state-run system that determines the validity of a will, or sets up the legal structure needed to finalize an estate in the event that there is no will. The probate court oversees all of the activities such as satisfying estate debts and distributing proceeds to beneficiaries before finally releasing the estate.

Working With The State

If your loved one did not leave a will, then all you can do is try to offer your services to the state as an estate administrator. The administrator is the one the state directs to use estate assets to satisfy debts. There are no distributions to beneficiaries until all of the estate's debts have been satisfied. The administrator is the one who works with the probate court to use existing assets or liquidate property to create more financial assets that will be used to satisfy debts.

Can You Influence The Probate Court?

When a loved one dies without a will, the state and its probate court have a process they follow to help get the estate through probate. The laws and process vary from state to state, but in most cases the surviving spouse is named estate administrator. If there is no spouse, then the eldest child is named administrator. If you are a blood relative of the deceased, then you can submit your status to the probate court and be prepared to be the estate administrator if the options of surviving spouse and children are not available.

While the probate court can name a surviving spouse or child as the administrator, that does not mean that those surviving relatives will take the job. Being a estate administrator through the probate process is not easy, and some people will refuse to do it. You can submit yourself as someone who would gladly accept the estate administrator position if it were offered to you.

If your loved one dies without a will, all you can do is offer your services as estate administrator to the probate court and work with the courts on anything it may ask. If you maintain communication with the probate court and respond in a timely manner to any court correspondence, then you could wind up being the estate administrator. If there is no will, it will be the state and the probate courts that will make the rules that you and the family must follow.


On November 21, 2017, singer David Cassidy passed away from internal organ failure. It was a shock to his family and his fans, and it ignited a probate process that could go on for quite some time. In January 2018, a law firm out of Florida filed a lawsuit against Cassidy's estate claiming that the singer still owed $19,000 in legal fees. This simple story has several points that are important to understand when it comes to an estate clearing probate.

All Debts Must Be Satisfied

No estate clears probate in any state until that estate has satisfied as much of its existing debts as possible. In the case of David Cassidy, his estate cannot clear probate until this lawsuit is completed and the debt is paid. It is possible that the law firm would take a settlement to clear the debt quickly, but if this goes to court then it will be months before the estate passes through probate. If other lawsuits pop up, then that will delay the process even more.

No Creditor Is Ignored

Each state has its priority list when it comes to satisfying debts for an estate while still in probate. Judgments such as the one that could be awarded to the law firm in their lawsuit often take precedent of items such as credit card debt. But it is important to understand that every creditor that is owed money by an estate is given their chance to state their case. Whether it is by a court judgment or an account in good standing, every creditor will get their say when the probate court goes through its process.

Not Every Creditor Will Be Happy

It is entirely possible that the last assets from David Cassidy's estate will be used to satisfy this judgment, if one is handed down, and that would leave nothing for any remaining creditors. The probate court will rule that assets be liquidated to pay off any debts, which means that family members who would have inherited homes and cash may never see what David Cassidy intended to provide for them.

When Does It End?

Creditors of an estate must contact the probate court within a pre-determined period of time to lay claim to money they are owed. The process varies slightly from state to state, but the normal process is that the probate court sets a deadline and that deadline must be followed. When an action such as a lawsuit stalls probate, it can act like an extended deadline for creditors who are still searching their records to see if the deceased owed them any money.

The best way to understand the probate process is to see it in action, and we get that chance with the estate of the late David Cassidy. The timetable for getting his estate through probate has now been extended, and it is possible that his beneficiaries might have to watch their potential inheritance used to satisfy the debts of the estate before they get any part of it.

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