P R O B A T E   &   P R O P E R T Y
March/April 2004
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Department

Technology- Probate

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

Fiduciary Accounting: Where Are They Now?

This column last looked at fiduciary accounting software in 1999 (specifically, the columns in the July/August and November/December issues). A number of changes have occurred since then, including some major changes in the last year, so it is time to take a look at what’s still out there, as well as what isn’t.

Zane FAS (FPS Accounting)

What was the Zane product line has been acquired by Fast-Tax, which is part of the Thomson Corporation, the owner of West Group (which used to be West Publishing). The Zane product line has been renamed the Fiduciary Practice System (FPS), and the Zane Fiduciary Accounting System has been renamed “FPS Accounting.”

The Zane accounting program was one of the first that made the transition from DOS to 32-bit Windows (skipping over the 16-bit Windows 3.1 environment), and it has been a stable product and relatively trouble-free. (But it has some quirks, such as a somewhat confusing page numbering system that puts two different page numbers on most pages, that can result in page numbers assigned to blank schedules that aren’t printed, and that makes it difficult to correct and reprint individual pages.) Most software for the legal market seems to come from smaller developers and not the larger publishers, but the Fast-Tax organization has experience in supporting tax-oriented products, so the Zane/FPS product line should do nothing but improve.

Fiduciary Accounting for Trusts and Estates (FATE)

The FATE program was originally published by Shepard’s, which was acquired by McGraw-Hill and became Shepard’s/McGraw-Hill. Shepard’s/McGraw-Hill was acquired by West Publishing (now West Group), which was acquired by Thomson Corporation, which now owns the Zane product line (see above). Needless to say, Thomson has no interest in publishing two different fiduciary accounting programs (Zane and FATE), so FATE’s fate is now sealed.

And the fate of FATE is somewhat tragic, because it was a good DOS program. But it made a very rocky transition from DOS to Windows, during which it was plagued with technical problems and many understandably unhappy users.

Thomson will be offering the FPS Accounting program (and other Zane products) to users of the West Estate Practice System (of which the FATE program was part), and those users will have little choice but to convert to the FPS programs. West will no longer be supporting the federal estate tax preparation software that worked with the FATE program, so users who want to continue to use a fiduciary accounting program that is integrated with an estate tax program will have to switch to the FPS programs.

Lackner 6-in-1

Back in 1999, the Windows version of the Lackner 6-in-1 accounting and tax return preparation program was reportedly in beta testing. It never got out of beta testing, and the Lackner Group is still marketing a DOS version of the integrated accounting and tax preparation software, which they report has the “look and feel” of a Windows program and continues to run under Windows.

The current version of the 6-in-1 program has the functionality that users need and continues the “write once” philosophy that Vince Lackner pioneered, so that a single entry for an asset or transaction can be applied to the fiduciary account, the death tax returns, and the fiduciary income tax returns. The program also has many loyal users. But it may be difficult to attract new customers with a product that is not written for the Windows environment.

Fiduciary Accounting System for Trusts and Estates Reporting (FASTER)

Given some of the problems reported above for other programs, FASTER Systems LLC should probably be happy that there is nothing much to report about their company or their product.

The FASTER program is often overlooked in reviews of fiduciary accounting software for lawyers, but it is a stable, well-written program with a lot of power and flexibility and a lot to offer many law firms. It is, for example, inherently multi-user, so that more than one lawyer or paralegal can be using the program without any danger of corrupting any data.

ProBATE Plus

ProBATE Software has acquired a new product, iKE Office, a “digital process management” program that is a kind of general purpose (not estate and trust or even legal specific) combined case management and document management system. Because of its broader product line, the corporation has changed its name to Selden Integrated Systems Inc., even though it continues to market the ProBATE Plus fiduciary accounting program (and its related tax preparation programs) under the name “ProBATE Software.”

ProBATE Plus is not as sophisticated as some other programs, but it is easy to use and has its fans. (And its relatively low price doesn’t hurt its popularity.)

Other Choices

There are a couple of other choices that were not discussed back in 1999, but that could be considered by some law firms.

The TEdec Fiduciary Accounting System, from TEdec Systems Inc., has apparently survived some health problems by its founder and CEO and continues to be marketed and supported, although it also never made the transition to Windows.

The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) has developed a set of accounts and reports for the popular Quicken financial accounting program from Intuit that allows Quicken to serve as a fiduciary accounting system. This can be very useful for smaller and simpler accountings, particularly if the lawyers or their staffs are already familiar with the Quicken program. Initially, this package of configuration files was available only for ACTEC fellows, but it has since been offered for sale to others in the legal profession.

Summary

The loss of the FATE program has significantly narrowed the choices in fiduciary accounting software for estate practitioners. For those looking for Windows-based fiduciary accounting software, there are really only three choices: FPS Accounting from Fast-Tax/Thomson, the FASTER system, and ProBATE Plus, although the ACTEC Trust and Estate Accounting Package for Quicken could be considered a fourth choice. Law firms willing to invest in DOS-based systems can also consider Lackner 6-in-1, as well as the TEdec system.

 

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