Technology Probate

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More Document Drafting Tools

Two new programs can help lawyers and law firms that want to automate the drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, petitions for probate, notices to beneficiaries and other estate planning and estate administration documents and want to build systems using their own forms. One is ThinkDOCS from DataTech Software of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The other is GhostFill from Korbitec Holdings Ltd. of Cape Town, South Africa. The two products have certain superficial similarities, but there also are significant differences between them.

The Similarities

Both products work with Microsoft Word, although Ghostfill can work with any word processor that can import and export RTF (Rich Text Format) documents, as well as plain ASCII documents and HTML files (i.e., Internet Web pages). Both programs integrate well with Microsoft Word, setting up toolbars in Word that help with creating documents and editing templates from existing documents and seamlessly transferring text and data to and from Word.

The most common task in automated document drafting is filling in names, addresses and other information in the right spots in the document. Both programs provide easy-to-use dialogs for defining and applying different types of information, such as text, dates, numbers, true/false and multiple choice selections, and allow the template author to create dialogs to query the user when creating a document from the template. Both also provide ways of saving the user inputs in reusable databases.

A slightly more complicated task is the selection of alternative clauses to appear in a document. Both programs provide ways to create clauses and to define the conditions under which each clause will appear in a finished document based on the answers entered by the user. For example, in ThinkDOCS the template author can define a multiple choice question and then link a clause to each possible answer, so that the user can select one possible answer (or one or more answers), and then the corresponding clauses will be inserted into the document. Both programs allow “nesting” of clauses, so that selecting one clause can lead to other questions and other decisions that will result in the insertion of other clauses into the finished document.

Both programs have document management capabilities that can be used to organize and find completed documents, although the document management capabilities are more limited than what would be found in a program such as Worldox.


ThinkDOCS is organized in a very logical way, with templates organized into “libraries” of related forms, and documents organized into “clients” and “cases” (each client having one or more cases). Both “fields” for data and “clauses” for text are organized into libraries and the templates within libraries, and fields can be defined as relating to either the client or the case. (The answer to a client field will apply to all documents for that client, but the answer to a case field will only apply to that particular case for that client.)

ThinkDOCS is more interactive than most other programs, because the fields for names, addresses and other variable information remain in the finished document, and the information that was inputted can be modified and updated even after the document is completed and has been edited. So if a user prepares a will or power of attorney, edits it and then realizes that one of the names is wrong, the inputs can be changed and the name automatically up-dated throughout the document without losing any of the edits to the text of the document. (But the user cannot change an input that resulted in the insertion of a clause.)

Although clauses can be inserted automatically based on user choices, the clause library is also available to the user after a document is completed, so that less commonly used clauses can be inserted manually rather than as part of the automated system. Firms can therefore automate the most important clauses and then use the ThinkDOCS system as a quick clause retrieval system for document customization by lawyers and paralegals.

A somewhat unusual limitation of the program is that the format of a particular piece of information is determined by the definition of the field rather than formatting codes within the template. For example, if the field “DeathDate” is defined in the form “Month DD, Year,” then it will appear in that format everywhere it is inserted in the document, and there is no easy way to display the date as “MM/DD/YY.” Similarly, a user can define a dollar amount to appear as numbers (“$5,000.00”) or as words (“Five Thousand Dollars”), but not both (or at least not without creating a second field). Most other programs allow dates and numbers to be reformatted in different ways in different parts of the document.

A more significant limitation of the ThinkDOCS program is that it cannot easily deal with questions that can have multiple answers. For example, a will can have one, two, three or more executors, or a trust can have one or more trustees. Ideally, the user should be able to enter one or several names, and the software will insert the names with the right grammar (such as “A and B” or “A, B, and C”) and the right number of signature lines using functions that count the number of names and insert one line for each name. Those functions do not exist in ThinkDOCS, so it may be necessary for the user to enter the number of executors and for the template author to refer to them as “executor1,” “executor2,” and so on, with different clauses for each different number of executors.

Finally, ThinkDOCS has a built-in security system that lets a firm control who can create and edit templates and clauses and that can even control access to specific documents.

GhostFill 2001

The terminology used by Ghostfill is somewhat different from other programs, although the concepts are similar. For example, groups of related templates are “applications,” and the places where variable information is inserted are “FillPoints.”

A nice feature of the user interface is the extensive use of the right mouse button. To use or edit a document, template, clause, FillPoint or other element, all the user need do is use the mouse to highlight the element and then right-click with the mouse. A menu will pop up that lists all possible actions that can be taken to edit or use the highlighted element.

Like other programs, Ghostfill collects information from users, creating documents through “dialogs,” but Ghostfill allows the template author to select which questions to group together and in what order. The dialogs must then be inserted into the template in order for Ghostfill to ask the necessary questions.

A powerful feature of Ghostfill is that its own data structures are relational, and it has the built-in ability to retrieve and save data in Access, Outlook and other relational databases that are ODBC compliant, as well as SQL servers. This means that information can be grouped in logical ways (such as a table of the names and addresses for the beneficiaries of an estate) and that a firm can integrate existing client or case databases into document drafting systems in Ghostfill.

Ghostfill can also handle multiple values (or “lists”) and insert the list into the document (i.e., “A, B, and C”) or repeat text (such as signature lines) based on the number of names or other items in the list.

The cost of the power and flexibility of GhostFill is some complexity. Using some program features begins to feel much more like programming than with simpler document drafting systems. However, the program supplies a number of “wizards” to simplify many tasks, and many of the more complex formulas or commands can be edited by “drag and drop” from samples or from other formulas or commands to reduce typing errors.

Finally, Ghostfill appears to be one of the more extensible systems, capable of being integrated with other Windows applications into a larger office system. For example, Ghostfill templates and answer sets are saved as XML files, templates can access and control “automation servers,” and GhostFill includes ActiveX support that allows other applications to control GhostFill operations. Larger firms may therefore find that Ghostfill can be more easily connected to, and controlled by, other practice management systems.

A Final Comparison

HotDocs has become the most popular document drafting program among lawyers, and so lawyers often ask for a comparison of other programs to HotDocs. ThinkDOCS seems easier to learn to use than both HotDocs and GhostFill, but not as powerful as either of the other two programs. It might therefore be suitable for a firm primarily interested in ease of use and automating forms without a lot of complicated conditional clauses.

GhostFill seems to be as powerful and sophisticated as HotDocs (or more so) and seems easier to use in some respects. For firms looking to integrate document drafting with case management, HotDocs may have an edge because it is already integrated with case management programs such as Amicus Attorney and Time Matters. But GhostFill may be more easily integrated with other firm databases.

DataTech Software
(800) 556-7526

GhostFill 2001
Korbitec Holdings (PTY) Ltd.
27 (0)21 658-9700

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Technology—Probate Editor: Daniel B. Evans, P.O. Box 27370, Philadelphia, PA 19118,