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.
More New Document Drafting Programs
The Technology--Probate column in the May/June 1998 issue discussed three different document drafting systems for Windows. This column describes two other new systems, California Wills & Trusts from Lawgic Publishing and Document Preparation System from Advanced Logic Systems.
California Wills & Trusts
Lawgic Publishing Company has developed software to create document drafting systems and publishes a number of systems using that software. One of its newest systems is California Wills & Trusts by Michael S. Whalen and Edmond R. Davis of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP. The system drafts not only wills and revocable trusts, but also a wide variety of documents needed for estate planning, such as trust amendments and restatements, codicils, durable powers of attorney, living wills, trust certifications, community property declarations, letters of engagement and draft transmittal letters, as well as worksheets and questionnaires.
Because these are prepared forms and not software for automating the user's own forms, a critical question is whether the various clauses and provisions created by the authors will be acceptable to the lawyer or law firm buying the system. I am not a California lawyer, but the options and provisions seemed appropriately comprehensive and sophisticated (although somewhat verbose by my standards).
Lawgic also provides a number of ways that the user can customize the system:
* Selected answers can be saved as an "exemplar" or template, so that creating new documents requires only the entry of names and other client-specific information. For example, a firm needing a large number of documents with an outright marital deduction formula and a unified credit trust with all income to the surviving spouse could use an exemplar to create that style of document repeatedly and with a minimum of questions to be answered.
* Some terminology can be customized. For example, the user can specify whether the trust using the unified credit should be called the "unified credit trust," "family trust," "credit shelter trust" or "trust B." Users can also choose between trusts written in the first person and third person.
* Some questions allow the user to enter text that is incorporated into the document, and lawyers can save frequently used text through answers saved as exemplars or through "notes" attached to questions and saved with exemplars. Other software features help lawyers use the system as a learning tool for associates and paralegals.
* A "law and strategy" window can be displayed for each question explaining the legal, tax or ethical considerations for that question. Lawgic has also included an on-line reference library with the full text of the California Probate Code, key California court decisions and selected sections of the Internal Revenue Code, regulations and rulings.
* The answers to some questions can be marked "tentative," allowing them to be reviewed later by another lawyer.
* The answers to questions can include "notes" attached to the answers, so that a lawyer can explain why certain provisions were incuded or not included in a client's documents, or why they were included or not included in an exemplar to be used by other lawyers.
The completed documents can be saved in either Microsoft Word '97 or WordPerfect 8 formats. The latest release includes automatic paragraph numbering, cross-referencing and tables of contents, as well as the ability to change the template of the finished documents to customize formats of fonts and paragraphs.
The Document Production System From Advanced Logic Systems
Advanced Logic Systems has its own software to create document drafting systems and has used its software to create systems not only for will and trust drafting but also to prepare tax returns and probate forms. The estate planning forms include wills, revocable trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, powers of attorney and living wills, as well as estate tax projections, gift tax returns (Form 709), applications for employer identification numbers for trusts (Form SS-4) and split dollar life insurance agreements.
The wills, trusts and powers of attorney are supposedly appropriate for at least eight midwestern states but did not seem overly state-specific and could probably be used in a number of states with only minor modifications. The estate planning systems for states other than Iowa, however, contain only the federal estate tax projections, Form 709 and Form SS-4.
Like Lawgic's system, these are prepared forms that cannot be modified by the user, but the program pro-vides a measure of flexibility:
* A set of answers can be saved as a "guide" and reused to create similar documents in the future.
* Each user can create a "substitution table" of words or phrases that are uniformly changed. For example, the trust agreements might refer to the "settlor," but the user can change the terminology to "grantor" throughout. There appears to be no limit to the number or type of words that can be substituted in this way.
Although the program is simple and easy to use, it lacks some of the drafting guidance found in other similar programs. Many of the questions that need to be answered to draft wills and trusts are very terse, and there are no additional explanations or references available to help the user understand the consequences of different answers.
One plus is that completed documents can be viewed, edited and printed directly from within the program or can be exported to files in WordPerfect or Microsoft Word (Rich Text Format). (Tax returns can be viewed and printed within the program, but not exported.) The variety of forms available from Advanced Logic Systems may also be an advantage, because some firms might find it convenient to use the same software to prepare both estate planning documents and estate administration documents, as well as forms for corporations and limited liability companies, eliminating the need to learn two or more different software systems.
California Wills & Trusts
Lawgic Publishing Company
7200 Redwood Blvd.
Novato, CA 94945
(800) 952-9442, Fax: (415) 898-8875
Document Production System
Advanced Logic Systems
558 28th St.
Des Moines, IA 50312
(800) 454-7703, Fax: (515) 282-7706
Updated Software Listing:
I recently updated the list of software products for trusts and estates lawyers originally published as an appendix to my book, Wills, Trusts and Technology. The new list of products, vendors telephone numbers and web sites can be found at http://evans-legal.com/dan/wtt-new.html
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