Systematic termination of revocable trusts
Kelley Rating (one asterisk = lowest, to five asterisks = highest):
- Ease of navigation, design of interface and learning curve ****
- Instructional documentation and help system ****
- Carries out the goal of the product as advertised *****
- Overall usefulness *****
The Cowles TrusTerminator version 2011-1 (manufactured by Thomson Reuters/West) software program is a system for automating the documents related to the termination and distribution of trusts. It’s designed to assist you in addressing the details involved in trust termination and facilitate the closing administration of a revocable trust following grantor’s death. It generates the correspondence and documents needed for trustees and beneficiaries to initiate and complete the administrative tasks required for the termination of trusts. The system includes tools directed toward obtaining asset information, creating an inventory of trust assets and completing the final accounting and distribution of the trust, including documents such as deeds to convey real estate to beneficiaries.
TrusTerminator creates correspondence, databases and documentation for pre-appointment client contact, offers to sell estate property; corresponds with creditors; compiles asset databases and reports; handles asset valuation; real estate documentation and trust accountings; corresponds with tax professionals; creates disclaimers and testamentary trust funding documents; makes asset transfers to beneficiaries and includes a contact manager. A list of the documents generated by the program is available online at the TrustTerminator Document List. More information and a demo of the product are available on the Trust Terminator website.
What’s It All About?
To begin using the TrusTerminator program, you enter the necessary information and then select from a variety of forms related to the termination of a trust. A series of menus walk you through the termination process. You may customize the language of the forms that are included in the software to add your own text or edit program text. TrusTerminator both organizes the trust termination process for you and generates all the necessary documentation for beneficiary information, dealing with third parties, trustee education and required government contacts.
The concept of the program is to gather in a single database the information needed for the inventory, the final accounting and other documents necessary to accomplish the distribution of property during or after administration of a trust. It shares data with the publisher’s Trust Plus software to avoid duplication of entries for individuals using the publisher’s complete system. Based on detailed data regarding the trust or estate assets of a decedent, the TrusTerminator system can generate appropriate correspondence and transfer documents, inventories and trust accounts. The program is state-specific and should be ordered for the state you’ll be using it in.
TrusTerminator includes a checklist for trust termination that can be downloaded from the “Members Only” area of the website. The written materials furnished with the program include “A Guide for Administering the Revocable Living Trust,” which provides information and education for the trustee of the trust.
The Cowles members only website offers elaborate instructional materials. As a subscriber, you’re given access to the Members Only website, including checklists, software updates, forms and letters, supplies, a listserve, documents furnished by members, archived articles from The Estate Planner newsletter, access to selected areas of Westlaw organized for Cowles members, a list of Internet addresses relevant to the operation of TrusTerminator and the online TrusTerminator Software Guide.
How It Works
When you first launch TrusTerminator you’re presented with a screen that asks you to fill in a series of preferences for your office, including common elements of documents you intend to process and settings for the program. The program will default to the state for which it was purchased.
You’re then presented with a screen from which you may select an existing session (including a publisher’s sample) or initiate a new session. A blank screen then appears with a series of drop-down menus at the top.
From the generation menu, you begin by selecting the item corresponding to the trust information you want to enter. You may then import information from revocable trusts generated by the Cowles Plus system. On this screen, you may also enter information concerning the decedent and the trust, (including selection of required accountings), enter critical dates related to the decedent’s estate, identify the procedures for distribution of estate assets (such as property distribution to a trust based on a pour over will) and enter any other estate information.
You then select the pre-appointment item from the generation menu from which you select the documents and correspondence you want to generate to initiate the termination of the trust. This area of TrusTerminator creates correspondence and documentation for pre-appointment trustee education, an authorization to third parties to release confidential information, authorizations to retain professional assistance and initial government filings including the SS-4 and a letter to the Internal Revenue Service notifying them of the death of the grantor applying for the trust identification number. The pre-appointment letter to the trustees who will act during the trust termination process confirms the appointment date and time and encloses a list of items and information to bring to the appointment. The pre-appointment letter provides various options, dealing with the step-up in basis on assets, the determination of date-of-death values to establish basis and disclaimers and the rules regarding acceptance of benefits. You may then direct the program to print out selected pre-appointment documents.
From the generation menu you may further select:
- Letters for the initial correspondence with third parties with whom the trustee must deal. Documents to implement offers or options to sell property that are included in the trust are also available;
- Court filings related to local procedure for providing notice to creditors;
- Asset information, including entry and editing of detailed asset data, exporting asset data to Microsoft Excel, generation of a printed asset report or asset inventory and generation of full reports of assets including a list of assets on which information is still outstanding;
- Valuation correspondence with appraisers;
- Real estate documents, including letters and affidavits;
- Inventory correspondence, including letters to trustees and beneficiaries;
- Trust accounting data entry, reports and correspondence;
- Tax correspondence to state/federal authorities, and tax professionals, cover letters enclosing tax returns, certification of various documents and correspondence to beneficiaries enclosing K-1 forms;
- Disclaimers, which use the asset list to select property to be disclaimed, if desired;
- Transfer of assets, including correspondence and documentation, implemented by selection of asset and selection of beneficiary;
- Testamentary trust, documents needed to fund trusts created by the revocable trust, including letters to transfer agents, brokers, trustees and beneficiaries; and
- Other correspondence such as letters to the trust and beneficiaries.
The session menu lists all sessions with the trust file, including the user and the date for the information of all persons working on the file. The session journal (under the system menu or available by pressing F8 anywhere in the program) allows the individual working on the file to maintain a journal of his activities and contacts with trustees, beneficiaries and other related persons.
The report menu allows you to create and print an inventory (with alternative valuations if desired), an accounting system report showing all transactions in a selected time period beginning with the inventory and ending with assets on hand and a register of all financial activity involving the trust assets over a selected time period.
Help and Support
A Quick Start guide is available online that walks you through the processing steps of the program. Specific help information is available for the screens relating to document generation, and a complete help system is available, which includes the TrustTerminator Software Guide that walks you through the step-by-step operation of the program.
For software problems and content questions you may contact customer technical support or contact a West Reference Attorney at 1-800-366-1730 or by email at email@example.com. Training by telephone is also available.
Where To Get It?
Cowles TrusTerminator version 2011-1 is available from Thomson Reuters West at 1-800-227-0721 or online at http://west.thomson.com/products/books-cds/cowles/trusterminator.aspx.
The program is priced at $2,118 new and $1,593 for a renewal. The purchaser receives a license for installation and use on up to three workstations.
Updated program files are periodically available for download from the Cowles TrusTerminator website.
TrusTerminator may be ordered as a package with the publisher’s Trust Plus system that produces wills, revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts including trust funding documents and asset transfer letters.
TrusTerminator supplies a unique and efficient service to expedite the administrative details attending the termination of a revocable trust, creation of related inventory and accountings and distribution of its assets. It serves not only as a trust database and document generator, but also as an organizer of work sequence and activity for the professionals involved in revocable trust termination.
Trusts & Estates magazine is pleased to present the monthly Technology Review by Donald H. Kelley—a respected connoisseur of the software and Internet resources wealth management advisors use to further their practices.
Kelley is a lawyer living in Highlands Ranch, Colo. and is of counsel to the law firm of Kelley, Scritsmier & Byrne, P.C. of North Platte, Neb. He is the co-author of the Intuitive Estate Planner Software, (Thomson – West 2004). He has served on the governing boards of the American Bar Association Real Property Probate and Trust Section and the American College of Tax Counsel. He is a past regent and past chair of the Committee on Technology in the Practice of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
Trusts & Estates has asked Kelley to provide his unvarnished opinions on the tech resources available in the practice today. His columns are edited for readability only. Send feedback and suggestions for articles directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.