Editor: Daniel B. Evans, P.O. Box 27370, Philadelphia, PA 19118 (215) 233-0988, e-mail evansdb@netaxs.com.

Technology - Probate provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the probate and estate planning areas. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

Windows Software for Estate and Trusts

There is an old joke in the software industry that God was able to create the world in only six days because He did not have to worry about an installed base. The point is that creating a new software program from scratch is often easier than updating an old one. Users have become comfortable with the way the program works and often do not want it to change, even if the change looks like an improvement.

More importantly, established users often have large amounts of data saved in files created by the old software program. They want the new program to be "backwards compatible" so that all of their old files can be transferred easily to the new program. Writing new software that can use or convert data from old programs greatly complicates the programming process.

These are some of the reasons why the transition from DOS to Windows has not happened as quickly as many people expected, particularly among lawyers. Many firms are still running straight DOS. The transition may be slower among estate and trust lawyers than among lawyers generally for the paradoxical reason that estate and trust lawyers were among the first to embrace computerization. They saw the advantages of generating court accountings, performing estate tax calculations and preparing tax returns, all by computer. Having bought DOS software, these practitioners are reluctant to buy new Windows software while the DOS software is still working. Once leaders in adopting new technology, many trust and estates lawyers now are followers in this area.

Why Switch?

Despite their natural inertia, firms are finally switching from DOS to Windows for their estate and trust needs. The rate of change is accelerating, probably for the following reasons:
  • Compatibility: Windows software usually runs better than DOS software on a computer running Windows. Under Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, it can be awkward to run a DOS program; under Windows NT it can be impossible. And, unlike OS/2, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 cannot run a DOS program while a Windows program is operating in the background.

    Law firms' new computers have come with Windows pre-installed so it has been easier (and cheaper) to use the computers with the installed Windows software than to buy other software or try re-installing old software. Changes in tax laws and court rules frequently require law firms to buy new software to keep up with the changes anyway, so the question facing many firms has not been whether to buy new software but whether to buy new DOS software or new Windows software.

  • Ease of use: In many respects, Windows software is easier to learn to use than DOS programs. The Windows menu bar provides a consistent user interface, and commands are visible and easily accessible. Even a person who has never used a particular Windows program and has not studied the manual may be able to figure out how to use the software just by looking through the menu choices at the top of the screen. "Button bars" displaying icons are also increasingly popular in Windows programs, and these make it possible to carry out many program commands with a single mouse click.

    The mouse itself, along with the graphical user interface, can be an aid to learning new software after lawyers and staff get used to the common conventions of Windows software and feel comfortable using a mouse.

  • Utility: Some tasks are easier in the graphical Windows environment than in the character-based DOS environment. It is easier to display (and print) tax returns with all of the different sized fonts, lines and boxes. It is also easier to display and print the kinds of flow charts, graphs and other visual aids that more lawyers are using in their practices to illustrate and explain their estate planning recommendations. Another advantage of the Windows environment is the independence of hardware from applications software. In the DOS environment, when a lawyer wanted a program to do tax returns, he or she had to be certain that the printer was compatible with the tax return software or the graphical image of the tax return would not print properly. A Windows compatible printer can print anything that a Windows program can print, restricted only by the resolution and colors available for the printer.
  • Availability: Finally, lawyers have been able to buy more Windows-based software for their estate and trust practices because more software has become available.


    The world of Windows is not without its costs and inconveniences. Most Windows programs are bigger and slower than the DOS programs they replace. "Program bloat" is partially a result of the demands of a graphical environment and partially a result of the fact that programs do not need to be small when one has an almost unlimited amount of memory available to run them. There also are incompatibilities between Windows programs and the various versions of Windows. Many programs written for Windows 3.1 do not run well under Windows 95 and will not run at all under Windows NT. A program written specifically for Windows NT will not run under Windows 95. The situation will become even more complicated when Microsoft re- leases the successor to Windows 95, Windows 98, because there may be incompatibilities between Windows 98 and both Windows 95 and Windows NT.


    Although Windows software has its advantages, there can be problems in adopting Windows software for a particular law office and practice, and there may be new problems in the future as Microsoft continues to dictate a course for the computer industry that is not strong on backwards compatibility.

    Despite these problems, Windows has become "the only game in town" and using some kind of Windows software is both judicious and inevitable. If you are still in the process of migrating to Windows, or are looking to change your estate and trust software to Windows versions, the best that you can do as a careful shopper is try to find out if the software you are buying will run on the version of Windows you are currently running, and make sure that you can return software that doesn't work for you. Technology_Probate Editor: Daniel B. Evans, P.O. Box 27370, Philadelphia, PA 19118 (215) 233-0988, e-mail evansdb@netaxs.com.

    Windows-based Software
    The following is a list of some Windows-based software programs that are currently available for the most common estate planning or administration tasks.

    Actuarial Factors/ Charitable Planning

    Estate Planning Tools for Windows
    Brentmark Software
    Suite 280, 120 University Park Dr.
    Winter Park, FL 32792-4427
    (407) 679-6555; (800) 879-6665
    Fax: (407) 679-1131

    Number Cruncher for Windows
    Leimberg & LeClair, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1332
    Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
    (610) 527-5216/Fax: (610) 527-5226

    Tiger Tables for Windows
    TSP Software
    Suite 700, 911 Washington Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63101
    (314) 231-2800/Fax: (314) 436-8400

    Estate Drafting Drafting Wills and Trust Agreements on CAPS
    West Group
    610 Opperman Drive
    Egan, MN 55164
    (800) 323-1336

    Estate Planning Calculations/ Graphics Estate Planning Concepts
    Clark Boardman Callaghan
    375 Hudson St.
    New York, NY 10014
    (800) 890-5558

    Leimberg's Estate Planning
    Leimberg & LeClair, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1332
    Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
    (610) 527-5216/Fax: (610) 527-5226

    OSI Software
    3914 Little Cottonwood Lane
    Sandy, UT 84092
    (801) 944-6250; (800) 432-6947
    Fax: (801) 944-6251

    ViewPlan, Inc.
    P.O. Box 80788
    San Diego, CA 92138-0788
    (800) 826-2127

    Fiduciary Accounting
    None known.

    Form 706/709 Preparation
    BNA 706 Preparer for Windows;
    BNA 709 Preparer for Windows
    BNA Software
    1231 25th Street, N.W.
    Washington, DC 20037
    (202) 452-4435; (800) 372-1033
    Fax: (202) 452-7547

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