Steven J. Best, chief executive officer of Best Law Firm Solutions, has wisely observed that the recent economic hardships only increase the need to have electronic capabilities enhance efficiency. Best advised: “Take heart that a sluggish economy will not last forever. Prepare now for the upcoming economic recovery … You should use this ‘downtime’ to … invest in the future — and technology should be a top-three item … Keep computers and software updated, learn (with quality training), and implement software to improve productivity to streamline tasks and improve efficiency. After you update/service your hardware infrastructure, consider investments in case management, document management, and schedule updates for your word processor.”1

To help improve the efficiency and accuracy of your trusts and estates practice, we offer this guide to programs and websites newly available in 2007 and 2008, as well as those I simply find interesting and useful.2

Web-Based Applications

There seems a growing acceptance of, and shift to, web-based applications. An increasing number of publishers offer such applications for billing, case management and number crunching. Some key examples:

  • EstateWorks, www.estateworks.com — Its document assembly capabilities now enable customers with their own HotDocs templates to merge client and case data from the EstateWorks database into estate-planning documents and letters.

  • Connect2A, www.connect2a.com, is an application addressing the management of an estate-planning practice and administration after death.

  • Basecamp, www.basecamphq.com, is a project management system emphasizing communication among project participants. It enables them to make collaborative to-do lists, share files, track project time and schedule milestones. The site advertises Basecamp Plus as its best value, priced at $49 per month.

  • InvestEdge AS, www.investedge.com/index.html, is a turnkey system for the management and reporting of high-net-worth investment portfolios.

  • Sungard WealthStation, www.sungard.com/WealthStation, offers tools for client management, financial planning, investment management, asset allocation, data aggregation, trading and rebalancing, reporting, client access and compliance.

  • Accutech Systems is a trust accounting and investment management software system. Its web-based program, AccuTrust ASP, at http://trustasc.com/newsite, offers the same services.

  • Finance Logix, www.financelogix.com, publishes software (Visual Advisor) and web-based facilities (ShareLogix) for portfolio management, retirement and post-retirement planning, asset allocation and risk-tolerance planning. It performs a risk analysis using Monte Carlo simulations and produces customizable client reports.

  • RocketMatter, http://rocketmatter.com/pages/product.html, is a web-based system addressing law firm time and matter management, calendaring, time capture, billing, accounting, conflict checking and internal messaging.

To read about the nature and advantages of these web-based applications, often referred to as “software as a service” (SaaS) technology, read Kim Plonsky's article, “The Wave of the Future-SaaS Technology Makes its Mark on the Law Office,” at http://litireviews.lexbe.com.

Case Management Software Comparisons

Estate planning and estate administration often require large amounts of information, client data and documents. Hundreds of software products promise to help you manage cases, so deciding on which software to use can be overwhelming.

For starters, check out the ABA Practice/Case Management Comparison Chart for Solo/Small Firms, which provides a chart comparing case management software. See www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/charts/pracmangementsoftcomparisonchart.pdf.

You also can see a chart of the features for case management software on the 1LawSoftware.com website at www.1lawsoftware.com/law-software-vendors.html, and software reviews of case management at http://litireviews.lexbe.com/index.aspx?Query=Case%20Management.

Software Selection

When purchasing and installing new software, there's more to think about than technical evaluation and cost. Also consider whether and to what degree your back office will accept and use the software. David Gialanella discusses this process in “New Tech, Old Problem,” 94 ABA Journal 35 (August 2008), at http://abajournal.com/magazine/new_tech_old_problem.

Lexbe litiReviews at http://litireviews.lexbe.com, is a collection of free software reviews of both legal-specific and generic (for example, Acrobat, Dragon and WordPerfect) software. The site organizes, summarizes and links to full text reviews that have been published in legal magazines, journals, websites and blogs, which are available on the Internet or hosted by litiReviews. (Note: Lexbe is also a publisher of case management software.)

Software Developments

QPRT Software

In these times of declining real estate values, people increasingly want to lock in low values with a residential property in a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT). There are a variety of software packages that address the calculations required for QPRTs:

Estate Administration

Data management during the process of settling an estate is often time-consuming and complicated. There are several new software programs available to streamline the process of estate administration.

  • For starters, check out The SettlementCounsel software from WealthCounsel, at www.wealthcounsel.com/SettlementCounsel.aspx. This software provides a fully automated guided solution for settling estates throughout the post-mortem planning process. This software organizes all of the estate's data and generates the documents needed for its administration. It's designed for attorneys and legal support staff. SettlementCounsel organizes and expedites the entire process of the administration of a decedent's estate, including the assembling of data that may be exported for other uses. The familiar HotDocs interface walks you through entry of the required information, organization and delegation of estate administration tasks. This software is discussed in detail in “Settlement Counsel,” Trusts & Estates Technology Review e-newsletter, April 2008.

  • Compliance Systems, Inc., PT Manager, at www.personaltrustmanager.com/index.html, helps you manage the requirements and information for trust administration accounts. It also provides a repository into which you can scan and save documents (such as wills, letters, etc.) and from which you can display documents for fast reference.

What's New From Adobe

In addition to the ubiquitous Reader, Adobe furnishes many other services and programs. Acrobat.com at www.adobe.com/acom is a free set of online services, including file sharing and storage, conversion of files to the PDF format online, an online word processor and collaborative file editor, and web conferencing that you can use to create and share documents, communicate in real time, and work with others. The ConnectNow feature allows users to host live online meetings and includes chat and file sharing.

Kim Plonsky describes and reviews this product in “Acrobat.com (Beta)LAT, November/December 2008, at www.legalassistanttoday.com/reviews/2008/nd08_acrobat.htm. A demo is available at www.acrobat.com/#/connectnow/ConnectNowBegin.

The latest version of Acrobat for the creation and manipulation of PDF files is 9.0. Brett Burney reviews this version in “Acrobat 9 Balances New With Tried-and-True,” Law.Com Legal Technology, Oct. 1, 2008, at www.law.com/jsp/legaltechnology/pubArticleLT.jsp?id=1202424924558.

The new features in version 9.0 include enhanced redaction and bates numbering, file-splitting, “better save to word” with flowing text, enhanced packages (PDF Portfolios) and more powerful document comparison. For a discussion of these enhanced features, see Jason Krause, “Acrobat 9 May Not Flip You,” 94 ABA Journal 36, August 2008, at www.abajournal.com/magazine/acrobat_9_may_not_flip_you.

Adobe has a blog “Acrobat for Legal Professionals” at http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw, in which it posts regular information and tips for Acrobat and Reader users.

Internet Research

Where do you start, when you have a trusts and estates issue to research?

  • The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) lists websites that provide advice on techniques for effective legal research online. See “Using the Internet for General Legal Research,” www.actec.org/public/Links/default.asp?category_id=920. The site also includes links to additional tips and suggestions for getting the most out of Google. See “Using Google & Other Generic Search Engines,” at www.actec.org/public/Links/default.asp?category_id=921.

  • Marcus P. Zillman's “Knowledge Discovery Resources 2008,” Feb. 27, 2008, can be found at www.llrx.com/features/knowledgediscovery2008.htm.

  • Grokker, www.grokker.com, searches Yahoo!, Wikipedia and Amazon, and displays the results in outline format by categories and subcategories with summaries of each site.

  • About.com from The New York Times, at www.about.com, provides a custom search that displays guides written by experts. It's good for a quick basic exposition of trust and estate topics.

  • Also useful is the comparison of search engines at Search Engine Features Chart, http://searchengineshowdown.com. The site displays a chart of the features of various search engines and links to reviews of each.

  • LexisWeb, www.lexisweb.com, searches law-related sources “selected and validated by the LexisNexis editorial staff.” According to Lexis, the site “helps you determine which other legal-oriented Web sites are trustworthy, authoritative and valuable to use in conjunction with the LexisNexis services.”

  • All tax regulations, including the estate tax regs, are available on the GPOAccess website at http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&tpl=%2Findex.tpl.

  • But after your search, you'll still need to determine the value of your results. So take a look at Sabrina I. Pacifici's article, “Features-Getting It Right: Verifying Sources on the Net,” March 1, 2002, at www.llrx.com/features/verifying.htm for strategies and tools to assist you in evaluating web site content.

What's New With Microsoft

To see what's coming in the next Windows iteration, due mid-2009, go to Lifehacker's “Top 10 Things to Look Forward to in Windows 7” by Gina Trapani, Nov. 8, 2008, at http://lifehacker.com/5078582/top-10-things-to-look-forward-to-in-windows-7.

Presentations

Just because you couldn't attend a conference doesn't mean you can't see some, if not all, of its worthwhile presentations. Indeed, increasingly, presentations are available solely on the Internet. Welcome to the new world of podcasts and webcasts.

  • Baldwin Management LLC, The Baldwin Primer at www.baldwinim.com/primer.asp, has slide shows on estate planning (generation-skipping transfer tax, grantor retained annuity trusts, grantor retained unitrusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, living wills and advance directives, personal residence trusts and revocable living trusts); as well as planning for retirement, insurance, investments and philanthropy.

  • Michael L. Graham's slide show, “I Fell and My HIPPA is Broken,” presented at the 39th Annual Heckerling Institute, is at www.ilsdocs.com/hippa_miami.pdf.

  • Another useful tool is The InKnowVision Periodic Table of Estate Planning Elements at www.inknowvision.com/tools/periodic.html. It's a matrix that displays various estate-planning tools. You can use the matrix in client meetings to help clients understand strategies and options available to them.

  • AdvisorTek Interactive PowerPoint Slides at www.advisortek.com/free_tools/free_tools_slides.htm includes free slides that display financial planning concepts and calculations.

  • For PowerPoint slides on charitable tax planning and business succession planning with the use of family limited partnerships and charitable trusts, go to Bourland, Wall & Wentzel at www.bwwlaw.com/seminars.htm.

  • Trusts & Estates debuted its first podcast this fall. See “Unbundling Trusts Fees: What It Could Mean For Your Clients” at www.trustsandestates.com. The discussion is moderated by Louis A. Harrison, partner in Chicago's Harrison & Held LLP, and features both Barbara A. Sloan, of McLaughlin & Stern LLP in New York, who had principal responsibility for preparing ACTEC's comments to the Internal Revenue Service, as well as Phoebe Papageorgiou, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association's Center for Securities, Trust & Investments.

  • The IRS has also posted videos of selected presentations from the 2008 IRS Nationwide Tax Forums at www.irstaxforumsonline.com.

Informational Websites

There's a slew of websites offering resources.

  • Alan Breus, in “Life Insurance: What's It Worth? (And Who Says?),” Planned Giving Design Center (2008), www.pgdc.com/pgdc/life-insurance-whats-it-worth-and-who-says, discusses the methodology behind valuing life insurance for charitable giving purposes. Breus also discusses the Pension Protection Act of 2006's requirement of using appraisers for valuation.

  • Michael Brink and Bryan Clontz, in “Charitable Gifts of Life Insurance,” Planned Giving Design Center, Feb. 26, 2008, www.pgdc.com/pgdc/charitable-gifts-life-insurance, discuss 10 creative charitable uses of life insurance and the tax implications in planned giving.

  • The IRS offers Online Educational Resources for Tax Exempt Organizations at www.stayexempt.org. Included are the Stay Exempt workshop program that helps representatives of new 501(c)(3)s learn the rules and regs.

  • Trusts & Estates e-newsletters, both the Trusts & Estates Technology Review that I author monthly and the twice monthly Trusts & Estates Wealth Watch, are available for free at www.trustsandestates.com. You can sign up to receive them via e-mail.

  • And all subscribers to Trusts & Estates magazine have access to online archives with five years worth of the articles www.trustsandestates.com.

Litigation Assistance

Got a court case or motion to file? SmartRules, www.smartrules.com, is an online fee-based service that furnishes detailed, up-to-date, step-by-step instructions for ascertaining court rules and handling filings in state and federal courts. The service also includes compliance guides and forms, and will check the rules, statutes and codes of procedure you'll need when filing court papers.

Bottom Line

During these rough economic times, many look for ways to cut costs, without sacrificing quality of service. The past year has produced exciting technological developments that can help improve the efficiency of a trusts and estates practice.

Endnotes

  1. Steven J. Best, Best Law Firm Solutions, Technolawyer (Oct. 21, 2008), www.bestlawfirm.com.
  2. Many of the recent developments in trusts and estates software and Internet resources are covered in the monthly Trusts & Estates Technology Review electronic newsletter. Subscribers of Trusts & Estates may receive this newsletter without additional cost by registering at www.trustsandestates.com. Archives of the newsletter are available at www.trustsandestates.com under “Tech Center.” The author's recently published book, The Electronic Practice, comprehensively covering software, computer operation and Internet resources of interest to the trusts and estates community is available under “Bookstore/Library” at www.trustsandestates.com.

Donald H. Kelley is of counsel at Kelley, Scritsmier & Byrne, P.C., in North Platte, Neb.