There's constant change and improvements in software and web services for the trusts-and-estates practice. Keeping current requires some effort. To make it easier, we offer this quick guide. Also, the monthly Trusts & Estates Technology Review enewsletter covers many key developments. Subscribers of Trusts & Estates magazine can receive this newsletter at no additional cost simply by registering at www.trustsandestates.com/. For comprehensive information on legal technology and online research, you also can see The ABA Legal Technology Survey Report for 2006 at www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/survstat.html.

INTERNET RESEARCH

The ability to do research for free on the Internet is expanding as search engines become more comprehensive and efficient, and as useful content becomes increasingly available. The major search engines (such as Google, Yahoo and MSN Search) are evolving into excellent resources for cases, rulings and articles. Tips for conducting law-related searches on Google are given in Dan Pennington's Gaga for Google, Part One: Making Your Search Results More Magical, ABA Law Practice Management Section (October/November 2006) at www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/articles/v32/is7/an9.shtml. For assistance in searching for substantive trusts-and-estates resources, also check out:

  • 2005-2006 Guide to Internet Research by Glenn S. Bacal (with a link in the online table of contents to “Key Rules to Effective Searching”), which discusses Internet searching strategies, information reliability and research sources in specialized practice areas. See www.ali-aba.org/aliaba/GLENBACAL_2002.asp.

  • The Virtual Chase, which supplies practical guidance on conducting legal research on the Internet at www.virtualchase.com.

  • The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel lists websites with advice on techniques for effective online legal research. See www.actec.org/public/links/default.asp?category_id=159. Resources include ALI/ABA and LLRX materials.

  • The recently released Internet Explorer 7.0 at www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/default.mspx includes tabbed access to the websites you view and allows you to select a default search engine and several additional ones, all of which can be searched simultaneously with the “Instant Search Box.” This convenient method to compare search results will improve your search efficiency.

STATE ESTATE TAX

First and foremost, practitioners must keep up with the latest legal developments. This can be especially difficult as federal and state tax laws rapidly change. The balkanization of state estate-and-inheritance tax laws after the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) compounds this difficulty. Beginning in 2006, the state estate-tax exemption in a number of states was substantially less than the federal estate tax exemption. This poses a dilemma for planners seeking the optimum tax result in the estates of both spouses. Computation programs for state taxes at death have become a necessary tool.

  • Product Comparisons: “Calculating State Estate and Inheritance Tax” on p. 42 summarizes the basic state estate tax and inheritance tax calculation features available in current versions of popular comprehensive software programs.

  • McGuireWoods LLP maintains a chart of state death tax rules and legislation (last updated July 5, 2006). See www.mcguirewoods.com/news-resources/publications/taxation/state_death_tax_chart.pdf.

  • Steve Leimberg (publisher of NumberCruncher and other software for the trusts-and-estates practice) and Vince Lackner (publisher of the 6-in-1 for Windows estate administration software) joined forces to develop DecoupleCruncher, a standalone state estate tax calculator (now in its Beta version) that will be marketed separately by Leimberg Associates and the Lackner Group.

  • The Illinois Attorney General website, www.ag.state.il.us/publications/estatetax.html, offers a free 2006 Decedents Estate Tax Calculator, which performs the circular calculation of state and federal estate tax, with deduction of the state estate tax from the state tax base. The program generates an audit trail of this calculation.

DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY

Document tracking and the larger scope of managing client tasks are appearing as part of document assembly software. In addition to the convenience of automated document assembly, there are additional tools for tracking documents, cataloging clauses and documenting client tasks. These tools save time and facilitate the document organization.

Thomson West released Drafting Wills and Trust Agreements (DWTA) 4.0 in November 2006. This newest version features enhanced content, including a new qualified personal residence trust; guideline documents for executors, trustees and agents acting under a power of attorney; and new charitable remainder trusts. Enhanced functionality includes the ability to create or import user-defined documents into the system; a new document manager to track and manage documents created in the system for each particular client; document formatting/setup options; and client archiving and system backup options. See http://west.thomson.com/dwta.

DATA MANAGEMENT

Both estate planning and estate administration require the storage and organization of significant amounts of client and estate data. The programs and web-based facilities that facilitate this process continue to expand in scope and data management efficiency.

  • EstateWorks at www.estateworks.com provides case management for estate settlement and estate planning, through the creation of a password-protected home page for each customer. The program integrates two products: TruePlan and TrueSettlement. Through TruePlan, users move through screens to enter case, family, contact and financial data; to see the status of cases; and to view a checklist and reports for each case. The system tracks estate administration and estate-planning documents and has task lists for all 50 states and Washington D.C. Through TrueSettlement, it can share data with Form 706 preparation programs, such as FastTax and Gillett Estate Management Suite (GEMS). The publisher is expanding the application of the databases maintained by EstateWorks to customize integration with HotDocs document assembly systems.

  • Connect2A, an interface that offers web-based management of estate-planning and administration after death, enables accountants, attorneys, financial professionals and clients to share information on the same platform. See www.connect2a.com.

  • Thomson West acquired the Cowles Estates Practice System in August 2006. The Cowles system provides estate-planning practice tools including: Trust Plus software for drafting wills, trusts and other estate-planning documents; TrusTerminator software that generates letters and documents, from an asset database to assist in terminating a revocable trust upon the death of the grantor; members-only online trusts-and-estates resources and access to a member listserv for the Cowles community; and Practice Building Supplies. See additional information and sample demonstrations at www.west.thomson.com/cowles/.

  • The Lawgic drafting system is releasing a Florida probate system in 2007 that will use the same logical approach applied in its will drafting system. This system guides users through an entire probate matter. It incorporates calculations within the system, integrates select leading practice/case management systems to automate deadlines and reminders, and enables the user to access legal analysis and commentary by leading trust and estate lawyers. See www.lawgic.com/.

PLANNED GIVING

Innovative software for supporting planned giving has sprung up in the past year, along with new and enhanced websites with helpful links and informative content.

  • The Planned Giving Design Center at www.pgdc.com/du/item/?itemID=382852 illustrates a case study from the new Composer Interactive Presentation System. This system consists of physical planning tiles designed to engage the client in the development of an estate plan, and Word templates to display the plan. See www.composersystems.com/index.html.

  • Jason Havens, a solo practitioner in estate planning, has a number of links on his website to charitable resources devoted to estate planning. See www.jasonhavens.net/charitable.htm, particularly “7. Technology for Charitable Planning.” He's working on a revised version of his site, which will have a much stronger emphasis on charitable gift planning.

  • Emanuel Kallina, managing member of Kallina & Associates, LLC, is preparing his CharitablePlanning.com website at www.charitableplanning.com and plans for the site to go live Jan. 1. It will include headlines, links to primary sources and commentary on the latest charitable, estate and financial planning tools and techniques, an extensive library for further research and charitable calculations related to the site content. The site will include calculators, checklists and updated forms and is intended to integrate charitable giving, estate planning and financial planning resources in a comprehensive and understandable manner. It's designed to reduce research complexity by prioritizing information.

  • NewTithing at www.newtithing.org/ includes the PrudentPal Charitable Giving Planner, which calculates the net after-income-tax deduction effect of charitable giving and suggests an optimal giving level. The program calculates the donor's after-tax actual cost of a donation, remaining year-end assets after donations and the actual after-tax out-of-pocket cost for a given benefit to charity. The program allows calculation of likely investment income, based on the percentage of the donor's portfolio in diverse investments, and factors in other earnings, net realized gains and capital gains tax. PrudentPal provides interesting and novel calculations and utilizes a unique strategy, taking into account the financial and psychological viewpoints of the donor.

INFORMATION SERVICES

Regularly published services and newsletters are available that help keep trusts-and-estates practitioners current. Some of these services, which continue to improve in scope and content, are:

  • Leimberg Information Services, Inc. (LISI) at www.leimbergservices.com/ continues to expand its features with a weekly/monthly digest; integration of “actual text” from cases, rulings, and new and proposed laws; FLP/LLC and Corporate Resource Q&As; podcasts; and a calendar for organizational meetings and events.

  • Several publishers of document assembly services, such as Cowles at www.west.thomson.com/cowles/, WealthCounsel at www.wealthcounsel.com/ and Wealth Transfer Planning at www.ilsdocs.com., publish proprietary newsletters and maintain forums and knowledge bases for their customers.

TAX PREPARATION

New estate administration programs are being designed to keep pace with changes in the law. Currently, estate-and-gift tax preparation programs are being updated for 2006 changes. For example, the release of the new Internal Revenue Service forms 1041 and 709 will need to be included in updates of these programs.

  • The Lackner 6-in-1 for Windows program at www.lacknergroup.com/ has added securities pricing through the Financial Data Service (FDS) pricing service.

  • GEMS from Gillett Publishing at www.gillettpublishing.com/ released an update with the new IRS 706 and other forms, and added a number of state inheritance/estate tax return preparation and accounting modules. It links with estate valuations and pricing (EVP) systems for securities pricing. GEMS also links to financial institutions through Quicken, permitting the transfer of information to its Form 706 module.

  • FastTax has added a check-writing feature to its fiduciary accounting program, and its 706 program now handles multiple nonresident computations for estates with assets having a tax situs in more than one state.

FINANCIAL ANALYSIS

Financial planning programs continue to provide features to assist in tracking investments and the tax results of investment transactions. Here are some of those programs:

  • GainsKeeper at www.gainskeeper.com/default.aspx is an evolving web-based service that facilitates managing a securities portfolio (including mutual funds, bonds and options) from the tax perspective, including tracking the impact of stock splits, stock dividends, liquidations, name changes, mergers, spin-offs, reorganizations and return of capital, thereby providing a service beyond what is typically furnished by brokers. It also adjusts cost basis and deferrals for wash sales. The service develops an income tax Schedule D and a Form 1099B that can be exported to tax preparation software, such as Turbotax. The newly released BasisPro product at www.gkis.net/basispro/index.aspx will address the management of securities portfolios of charitable organizations and trusts.

  • Other still-current financial planning programs are discussed in the Nov. 10, 2005, Trusts & Estates Technology Review enewsletter.

CONVERGENCE

“Convergence” is the latest buzz word for the integration of client data storage, the management of that data and the generation of scheduling, task delegation, document management and law firm accounting based on common data. Two of these programs with enhanced features and functionality are:

  • ProLaw now combines case management, relationship management and document management for front office with billing and accounting functions. It's adept at forms assembly and allows law firms to tailor and customize by practice area. The ProLaw database permits connection with Outlook, personal information managers, Word and WordPerfect. It organizes dockets and dates, generates documents, includes a new matter checklist and facilitates the organization of tasks and subtasks. Many law firms have developed proprietary ProLaw “libraries” for estate administration and trusts-and-estates matters. See www.west.thomson.com/prolaw/default.aspx?bridgepageid=6.

  • LexisNexis Total Practice Advantage combines legal research and practice management tools in a single platform. See www.lexisnexis.com/practiceadvantage/.

DESKTOP SEARCH

Here are programs to improve file organization and speed up searches:

  • FileCenter Standard developed by Jeff Picard (the developer of zCalc) and published by Lucion Technologies, LLC at www.lucion.com, is an electronic document management suite that substitutes for Windows Explorer. It helps with intense document management, adapts well to collaborative drafting and is a good fit for the management of a substantial volume of estate-planning documents. The addition of FileImage to the FileCenter Professional program adds document scanning, Optical Character Reader, and file conversion. FileCenter facilitates document scanning and storage by providing automated indexing, routing and saving features. Its ability to scan and organize files in bulk goes far toward making a paperless office possible.

  • Google Desktop Search at http://desktop.google.com/ speeds up your searches by indexing files and folders at your direction. The search tool has added more features and enhanced functionality, including built-in PDF searching.

  • Microsoft also has released a true network version of Windows Desktop Search and made other improvements. See www.microsoft.com/windows/desktopsearch/default.mspx.

  • Yahoo! Desktop Search, powered by XI Technologies, emphasizes its adaptability to law office environments for document management. See www.x1.com/case_studies/legal_services.html. It searches across servers and local computers for files, including emails.

  • For further update detail on desktop search software, see Jason Havens' Technology/Probate column in the November/December 2006 issue of Probate & Property (discussing, also, new developments in email, document assembly and PDF file management).

REMOTE ACCESS

For offices maintaining branches in different locations and for practitioners working remotely, there are programs to facilitate remote access.

  • Proxy programs such as LogMeIn at https://secure.logmein.com/go.asp?page=home and GoToMyPC at www.gotomypc provide the ability to access other computers remotely: to control your PC from anywhere, to share files among remote computers and to share your desktop from a remote location.

  • Marcy Burstiner, a freelancer who writes about legal technology, discusses aspects of remote access, including information sharing and data storage. See AmLaw Tech Survey: Law Firms Play Variations on Old Themes (Oct. 19, 2006) on the LegalTechnology website at www.law.com/jsp/legaltechnology/pubArticleLT.jsp?id=1161162316587.

COLLABORATION

Web conferencing and online collaboration tools continue to improve, enhancing the ability of practitioners to work together from remote locations. Here are some examples:

  • Google continues to add features, including collaboration software. Go to the Google Products web page at www.google.com/intl/en/options/index.html and click on “Docs and spreadsheets.” This program makes it possible to import, edit and share Word and Excel documents in a web-based environment.

  • Convoq ASAP is a family of Flash-based online meeting systems featuring media meeting capabilities that include text chat, Voice-over-Internet Protocol audio, video, screen sharing, PowerPoint presentations, record and playback, and additional remote desktop control capabilities. This product is simple, effective and easy to use. See www.convoq.com/products/default.aspx. Similar programs include NetMeeting at www.webex.com and GoToMeeting at www.gotomeeting.com.

  • Microsoft announced the development of RoundTable, which is scheduled to debut by mid-2007. The product provides an alternative to business trips or conventional audio/video conferencing systems. See the Microsoft Unified Communications web page at www.microsoft.com/uc/default.mspx for other communication technologies that integrate email, messaging, voice, conferencing and video.

BOTTOM LINE

The ability to leverage your time and effort electronically continues to expand. It pays to be alert to enhancements in software and Internet resources that increase the efficiency of the trusts-and-estates practice and offer tools that enable you to go where you have never gone before.

PRODUCT COMPARISONS

CALCULATING STATE ESTATE AND INHERITANCE TAX

A summary of features
BNA Intuitive Estate Planner1 ViewPlan zCalc
Rates/Exemptions default default and manual entry2 default and manual entry3 default
Calculation of Circularity as default only default and as selected default and as selected as default only
Identify Benficiary select class named beneficiaries named beneficiaries no
Inheritance Tax Class enter monetary or percentage amount to class enter monetary or percentage amount or specific asset to beneficiary enter monetary amount only to beneficiary no
State QTIP enter amount select QTIP or not no no
Other Adjustments as entered as entered no no
Deduction of Federal Estate Tax default and manual selection default no no
Interstate Allocation no yes2 no no
1 Designed by the author
2 Allows selection of tax computation and interstate allocation attributes, manual entry of threshold amount for estate tax and manual entry of inheritance tax rates
3 Allows manual entry of both rates and exemptions for estate tax to override defaults
Source Donald H. kelley