If you were starting from scratch with a reasonable budget to create a complex of software and quick Internet references for assisting with an efficient trusts-and-estates practice, what should you include on your wish list? Do you want to organize and analyze client data, make tax calculations, compute the results of charitable and other split-interest trusts, generate reports for client communication or display numerical and graphic presentations of estate-planning techniques?* These web-based systems and software solutions can help:
Organize the Data
The first step in effective estate planning and administration involves obtaining, storing and organizing your client data. There are web-based systems that allow you to maintain client data in an organized form dedicated to estate planning and estate administration. These systems facilitate tasks to be performed for clients and export data to document assembly systems and estate-tax-return preparation programs.
EstateWorks provides web-based case and process management for estate settlement and estate planning. Users move through screens to enter case, family, contact and financial data, see the status of cases, and view a checklist and reports for each case. The system facilitates keeping track of estate administration and estate planning documents and has task lists for all 50 states. It can share data with several of the Form 706 preparation programs. This facility is discussed in depth in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of May 2005.
Web-based management of an estate-planning practice and administration after death is also handled by Connect2A, discussed in depth in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of July 2005.
As the next step in assisting you and your client in making estate planning decisions, you will need to make a variety of calculations to illustrate the benefits and consequences of various estate-planning techniques and devices as standalone calculations. Programs that do these calculations are discussed in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of June 2005 with a feature-by-feature comparison of the three most widely used estate-planning software hand tools (such as standalone programs that do a variety of independent calculations), NumberCruncher (Leimberg and Associates), zCalc (FastTax) and Tiger Tables(Lawrence P. Katzenstein).
Standalone hand tools not only do quick and convenient computations using a variety of planning techniques, but also they allow you to check the accuracy of calculations performed by other software programs. Whatever major estate or financial planning program you operate, you can benefit from having one of the hand tool programs. Both hand tool programs and comprehensive estate-planning programs are released at different dates and times of the year, and some programs may address changes in the law or rulings that are not on others. At a minimum, you should have one comprehensive estate-planning program and at least one standalone hand tool program.
Comprehensive Programs For more complex functions with all calculations working together to help generate a client estate plan, consider a comprehensive estate planning program. These programs will do integrated calculations of the federal and state estate taxes with common estate-planning devices, such as grantor retined annuity trusts (GRATs), grantor retained unit trusts (GRUTs), planned sales and charitable trusts. Three of the most widely used and most complete of these programs are:
Intuitive Estate Planner (the author is the designer of this software) conducts comprehensive estate-planning and generation-skipping transfer tax calculations with state death tax calculations for all states (including decoupled states) pension accumulation and distribution calculations, charitable trusts, GRATs and GRUTs, planned sales (including self-canceling installment notes and intenionally defective irrevocable trusts), business organization balance sheets, previously taxed property credit, alternative allocations of tax burden and much more. All these calculations are integrated with estate tax and inheritance distribution calculations. The program includes a client demonstration slide show. Available from Thomson/West (online demo available).
Viewplan is an integrated estate-tax planning calculation program, including minimum distribution calculations. This program has extensive and well-designed flowcharts and graphs. It is also available in an advanced version that addresses charitable trusts, other split-interest trusts and planned sales devices. Available from CCH (demo available).
BNA Estate Tax Planner does extensive estate-tax planning calculations, integrating a number of planning devices into the tax computation. This program includes elaborate flowcharts and PowerPoint graphics. (Go to next page.)
State Estate-Tax Calculations
If you are practicing in a decoupled or inheritance tax state, or your clients have property located in such states, you need to be able to calculate state estate and inheritance taxes as part of your planning analysis. Software and online calculators addressing state estate taxes are discussed in depth in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of April 2006.
Such programs as BNA Estate Tax Planner, Intuitive Estate Planner, ViewPlan and zCalc will assist you in varying degrees with state estate-tax calculations and integrate the state estate-tax computations with the federal estate tax and other calculations that they do. Product comparisons and a summary of features of these programs are included in the author’s article in the January 2007 issue of Trusts & Estates magazine, which may be accessed through our online magazine archive.
Steve Leimberg and Vince Lackner have joined in developing DecoupleCruncher, a standalone state estate-tax calculator that will be marketed separately by Leimberg Associates and the Lackner Group. This calculator will address individual state estate-tax calculations, the allocation of state estate taxes among multiple states and the advantage of lifetime gifts. It is planned to be released by Jan. 1, 2007.
Charitable Calculation Programs
As your clients contemplate charitable transfers, you will need to compute the effects of such transfers on the clients’ income taxes and estate taxes. Such computations may also be needed as exhibits to tax returns. The comprehensive estate-planning programs and the standalone hand tool programs all include calculations relating to charitable trusts. An excellent standalone tool that is confined to GRATs, GRUTs and charitable trusts is Charitable Financial Planner. It handles charitable gift and trust calculations, GRATs and GRUTs, charitable trusts, charitable gift annuities and deferred gift annuities. It calculates both the estate tax and related income-tax effects. Brentmark Software (demo available) and Leimberg Associates (30-day trial period). Your comfort level with charitable calculations will be enhanced by having more than one program that does them.
Client Reports and Presentations
For client and group communication, you will want to have PowerPoint available. Working with PowerPoint is discussed in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of September 2006.
Flowcharts and diagrams are indispensable for effective client communication and display of estate-planning concepts, techniques and the flow of planning activities. For routine estate plans the major commercial flowchart programs may be both expensive and overkill. A slick, basic and easy-to-use program with attractive diagram generation is Micrografx ABC SnapGraphics. It is free on the Internet with only resale restricted.
Screen capture programs are also helpful in preparing client reports and group presentations. An inexpensive, easy to use and full-featured program is Fullshot. It provides screen capture by full screen or region, with many other useful features. Available from Inbit Incorporated. Screen capture programs are also discussed in the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of September 2006.
As you install these programs and others, your desktop becomes increasing cluttered to the point where you can’t see the nice desktop graphic that came with Windows or the portrait of your family or family pet. Decluttering is easy. Just do this:
Create a folder on your PC by placing your cursor anywhere on the Windows desktop and clicking on the right mouse button. On the menu that pops up click on “New” and then on “Folder.” Name the folder something like “Estate Practice.” Next, place your mouse cursor on any icon, hold down the left mouse button and drag the icon to the new folder. The icon will disappear from your desktop and be placed in the new folder. Repeat this process for all the icons you want in the folder. Then drag the new folder to the top or right side of your desktop screen to have it become a toolbar. Be sure that you have toolbars set to autohide so that the new toolbar appears and disappears as you move your mouse cursor to that area of the desktop. A similar process may be used on a Mac. To create a new folder, click on “File” on the toolbar on your desktop, then “New Folder.” After you have named the folder, you may also use the left mouse button to drag and drop items into the folder.
An appropriate mix of software can go a long way toward leveraging your time and effort as you serve your trusts-and-estates clients. The efficiencies that T&E software brings to data organization, tax calculation, planning and analysis will go far to enhance the accuracy and organization of your practice.
For general information on selecting trusts-and-estates software and for a helpful checklist, see the Trusts & Estates Technology Newsletter of April 2005. For the full text of any of the referenced newsletters, just email the author at email@example.com).
Trusts & Estates magazine is pleased to present the monthly Technology Review by Donald H. Kelley -- a respected connoisseur of 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 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
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