P R O B A T E   &   P R O P E R T Y
November/December 2002
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Technology - Probate

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.

Administration Assistants

In administering an estate or trust, five major categories of documents need to be generated:

1. Petitions, inventories, certifications, and other forms that must be filed with a court, notices that must be sent to beneficiaries or creditors in a particular format, or deeds that must comply with state law for recording;

2. Tax returns and forms, such as applications for an employer identification number (Form SS-4), federal estate tax returns (Form 706), and state inheritance tax forms;

3. Fiduciary accountings and inventories, which are not necessarily state-specific (because of the Uniform Fiduciary Standards), but which require asset and transaction information that may be difficult to assemble;

4. Forms that are not usually state-specific, even though they might be filed with a court, such as receipts and releases, disclaimers, and stock powers and other transfer documents; and

5. Letters that cover routine matters, such as requests to banks or others for date-of-death balances, cover letters for transfers of assets, and various kinds of letters to both fiduciaries and beneficiaries.

There is a variety of software systems on the market both for fiduciary accounting and for death tax returns (the second and third categories above), and some of those systems have been described in earlier columns. (See, for example, Technology-Probate: New Versions of Old Friends, Prob. & Prop. 50 (July/Aug. 1999), and Technology-Probate: New Versions of Old Friends II, Prob. & Prop. 14 (Nov./Dec. 1999).) When shopping for “off-the-shelf” systems that handle the less glamorous nuts and bolts of estate and trust administrations, however, lawyers often find a more limited number of choices.

One major problem with generating some of the more routine documents needed for estate and trust administrations is that many of the documents must comply with specific state standards (the first category of documents described above), so that the forms needed in Florida will not work in New York, and vice versa. At the other end of the spectrum are the letters and forms that are not state specific (the fourth and fifth categories above), which are often so simple that they can be created using “mail merge” and other simple document drafting tools using the letters and forms created by the law firm internally. These problems limit the market for these systems by both restricting systems to specific states and appealing to the relatively small category of lawyers who want to automate simple forms and do not want to spend the time automating their own forms.

Despite these concerns, the two “administration assistant” programs described in this column can be useful to a wide range of estate and trust lawyers, but for very different reasons.

Brentmark Asset Transfers System

Brentmark Asset Transfers System is based on the documents and knowledge previously found in the DOS program known as “Henson’s Transfers,” but now enhanced by Brentmark Software with a new Windows interface and improved capabilities. The program is directed to a very specific task, which is generating the deeds, stock powers, cover letters, and other documents needed to value, administer, and transfer assets to or from a trust or estate, but it does that task very well.

For any particular client, the user can define a number of different types of entities to which or from which to transfer assets. Assets can be transferred to or from individuals, revocable trusts, probate estates, irrevocable trusts, trustees (upon a change in trustees), and more. Transfer documents can be created one at time, or as a batch file, so that all of the documents needed to fund a revocable trust or terminate an estate can be created and printed at one time.

The program comes with a library of sample deed forms, as well as other transfer forms and cover letters, but the user can also modify the forms and create new forms to suit the user’s own state practice and firm style. Almost all of the forms and letters are saved as Microsoft Word merge documents and can be easily modified and customized using Microsoft Word (which is required by the program to prepare and print those same forms). Users can also use the program to fill in PDF (“portable document format”) forms created using Adobe Acrobat.

One of the most impressive features of the program is that it comes with a built-in database of mailing addresses for recording deeds in every county of every state, as well as an extensive database of names and addresses of stock transfer agents and life insurance companies. A cover letter to record a deed can therefore be prepared based on the state and county entered for the residence or vacation home to be transferred. Similarly, users entering information on stocks and bonds can usually just select the transfer agent from a list and use that information to generate any stock powers and transfer letters that may be needed, or select from a list of life insurance companies to enter information on life insurance policies and then generate documents for changes in the owners or beneficiaries of the policies.

There are also other utilities within the program, such as the ability to generate asset transfer schedules or tracking reports, and the ability to value securities automatically through an interface with Financial Data Service, Inc. (i.e., Wallace EZ Link On-line Pricing or CD service).

Cowles’s TrusTerminator

TrusTerminator is a program developed by Cowles Legal Systems, Inc., publisher of the TrustPlus revocable trust drafting system, to help with the administration of revocable trusts. Unlike the Brentmark system, which can help with a wide variety of transfers both to and from estates and trusts, the Cowles system is specifically addressed to the administration of revocable trusts at the death of the grantor (and any pour-over estate administration), but the Cowles system provides much more than just asset transfer documents.

TrusTerminator is really a case management system designed specifically for revocable trusts because it includes a number of case management features, such as keeping track of due dates for various forms and filings, maintaining a contact database for people involved with the trust, and allowing users to make notes of telephone calls, meetings, and status reports to maintain an accurate record of various tasks and decisions and to share that information among the staff members administering the trust.

Once information has been entered regarding the trust, the trustees and beneficiaries, and the assets of the trust, the program can generate a wide range of documents needed to wind up the administration of the trust (and administer the grantor’s estate), including correspondence and documents relating to the qualification of the successor trustee or probate of the will, authorizations to retain appraisers, accountants, or other professional help, notices of death to be sent to postal officials, insurance companies, and other interested parties, inquiries to banks, brokers, life insurance companies, and other institutions about assets and date-of-death balances, notices to creditors, applications for new tax identification numbers (Form SS-4) or notices of fiduciary relationship (Form 56), an inventory of assets, correspondence with beneficiaries, real estate documents, disclaimers by the surviving spouse, notices and other documents regarding options to purchase, transfers of assets to beneficiaries or trustees, receipts and releases, and others too numerous to mention.

If information about probate assets is entered into the system, the program can prepare a probate inventory as well as a trust inventory. If post-death debts and expenses are entered into the system, the program can even generate accountings for filing in court or approval by the beneficiaries.

The program comes with a wide range of forms and a choice for the style of correspondence (formal or personal). Inventories and accountings are in a fixed format, but the wording of other forms can be modified. It is not possible to add additional forms.

TrusTerminator is a comprehensive system and comes with a great deal of support, including a tutorial for the use of the program and printed checklists for guidance in trust terminations.

Summary

Brentmark Asset Transfers System and TrusTerminator are very different in their designs and their functions, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Both should be considered by a law firm with an active estate or trust administration practice, with the choice depending on the needs of the firm and how the programs will fit into the firm’s practice.

Brentmark Asset Transfers System

Brentmark Software, Inc.

Telephone: 800-879-6665

E-mail: sales@brentmark.com

Web: www.brentmark.com or

www.assettransfers.com

TrusTerminator

Cowles Legal Systems, Inc.

Telephone: 800-366-1730

E-mail: cowles@cowleslegal.com

Web: www.cowleslegal.com


Technology—Probate Editor: Daniel B. Evans, P.O. Box 27370, Philadelphia, PA 19118, dan@evans-legal.com

 

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