P R O B A T E   &   P R O P E R T Y
July/August 2003
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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.

Internet (and Intranet) Resources

This column will provide some new links (and new information on old links) that should be of interest to estate practitioners, as well as some tips on how to get the best use of the information you download.

Internet Resources

Trying to put together a complete list of Internet resources has become a Sisyphean task, but there are some major sites worth noting, as well as some useful methods for finding new sites.

Internal Revenue Service

The IRS web site ( www.irs.gov ) can provide a variety of different materials, but is difficult to navigate and has been reorganized enough that old bookmarks may no longer work. Some of the most important materials are IRS Forms and Publications in PDF format (many forms are in "fillable" format) ( www.irs.gov/formspubs ), Internal Revenue Bulletins in PDF format ( www.irs.gov/individuals/lists/0,,id=98200,00.html ), a searchable copy of Publication 78, "Cumulative List of Organizations" ( www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=96136,00.html) , the full text of the Internal Revenue Manual ( www.irs.gov/irm/page/0,,id=21023,00.html ), and Chief Counsel Documents (including Private Letter Rulings listed by number or "uniform issue locator") ( www.irs.gov/foia/content/0,,id=97842,00.html ). The IRS also offers subscriptions ( www.irs.gov/taxpros/article/0,,id=99120,00.html ) for e-mail services such as the "Digital Dispatch" for general tax news and IRS web site updates, the "e-News for Tax Professionals" for regional developments, or IRS press releases throughthe "IRS Newswire" ( www.irs.gov/newsroom/content/0,,id=105771,00.html ).

Federal Statutes and Regulations

The U.S. Code (including Title 26) can be searched (or downloaded) at uscode.house.gov. For the status of current legislation and legislative histories, go to the Thomas web site of the Library of Congress ( thomas.loc.gov). The U.S. Government Printing Office publishes free on-line versions of both the Code of Federal Regulations ( www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr ) and the Federal Register ( www.gpoaccess.gov/fr ).

Federal Courts

The U.S. Tax Court ( www.ustaxcourt.gov ) publishes its decisions daily on-line (searchable only by party, judge, or date), as well as the rules of the court. Supreme Court dockets and rules are accessible through www.supremecourtus.gov . Access to other federal court dockets is easiest through the PACER system (Public Access to Courts Electronic Records), a fee-based system that requires advance registration ( pacer.psc.uscourts.gov ) but costs only 7 cents per page. On-line access to federal court opinions is best through Findlaw ( www.findlaw.com) or Villanova's Federal Court Locator ( vls.law.vill.edu/locator/fedcourt.html ).

State Tax Forms

Most states now publish their tax forms and instructions on the Internet, and most can be found by starting with the state's home page at www.state.XX.us (where XX is the two-letter postal code for the state) and looking for the department of revenue (or treasury or taxes). So, for example, the California home page is at www.state.ca.us , and a search of state agencies shows that forms of various tax agencies are at www.taxes.ca.gov . There is also an index of links to state forms maintained by the Federation of Tax Administrators ( www.taxadmin.org/fta/link/forms.html ).

State Courts

Many state courts allow on-line access to rules, dockets, and opinions, but finding them can be time-consuming and the opinions are usually not indexed except by name.

Bar Associations

Bar association web pages can often provide useful links to relevant resources. For example, this Section has a page of links to estate resources at ( www.abanet.org/rppt/links-list-serves/linkspt.html ). Many state and local bar associations also have web sites that can be valuable starting points for finding state and local resources on the Internet.

General Legal Sites

Findlaw ( www.findlaw.com ), now owned by WestGroup, has become one of the most popular free sites for finding federal and state statutes, case decisions, and other materials, and it includes a collection of materials and links on wills, trusts, estates, and probate ( www.findlaw.com/01topics/31probate ). See also the LexisNexis free web site, LexisOne ( www.lexisone.com ), with similar free research materials. Cornell Legal Information Institute also has an index to estate and trust cases and statutes ( www.law.cornell.edu/topics/estates_trusts.html ), estate planning materials ( www.law.cornell.edu/topics/estate_planning.html ), and gift and estate tax materials www.law.cornell.edu/topics/estate_gift_tax.html ).

Finding People

There are national telephone directories on-line, such as Switchboard ( www.switchboard.com ) and BigBook ( www.bigbook.com ). If the person might have died recently, check an on-line copy of the "Social Security Death Index" ( www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm ). If you have an address but no zip code (or county), try the on-line zip code directory at the U.S. Postal Service ( www.usps.gov ).

Finding Assets

If estate assets might be missing, you might want to check with the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators www.unclaimed.org ) or the National Abandoned Property Processing Corporation ( www.missingmoney.com ). Real estate ownership (and tax assessments) can be checked on-line in many counties for free (see the listings of public records on-line at > www.netronline.com/public_records.htm ), or go to a fee-based service like NETR Real Estate Research and Information www.netronline.com ) or Knowx ( www.knowx.com ) to search a national database of real estate and other public records.

Capital Changes

Need information about a recent stock split, spin-off, or merger? Most publicly traded companies now have web sites with "shareholder services" or "investor news" that will provide information about splits, spin-offs, and other corporate changes, including work sheets for allocating basis. (For example, www.att.com/ir/ss/tbi will tell you more than you probably want to know about all of the changes in AT&T stock that have occurred since (and before) the court-ordered divestitures of 1984.)

When All Else Fails

If you have never tried one of the newer on-line search engines, such as Google ( www.google.com ) or Ask Jeeves ( www.ask.com ), you are in for a treat. The ability of these programs to find exactly the information you want with just a few key words is positively amazing.

Intranet Resources

What is an "intranet"? The term is most often used to describe a local, in-house network that uses Internet tools (such as web pages and web browsers) to distribute information throughout a firm. So, for example, a firm might keep biographical and practice information "on-line" within a firm for the use of other lawyers within the firm.

But you can also think of your own computer as your own "intranet" of information you have created or collected, and you can use your browser or document management tools to manage your own electronic library. So, whenever you find a useful document on the Internet, you should consider downloading a copy to your hard drive, rather than merely printing it or bookmarking it.

The most likely documents to download are public documents that require some searching to find and might be needed for other clients in the future, such as the texts of recent legislation, new regulations, or new court or administrative rulings. New tax acts, and the committee reports explaining the tax law changes, can be downloaded from the Thomas web site (described above) and saved on your computer for both immediate research and future reference. When a new Revenue Ruling with guidance in a particular area (such as Rev. Rul. 2002-62, relating to early retirement distributions under Section 72(t)) or new final or proposed regulations are issued, you can download the Internal Revenue Bulletin from the IRS web site (described above) and keep the exact language of the ruling or regulation on hand for future reference. Electronic copies of tax forms and instructions (such as Forms 706, 709, and 1041) also come in handy from time to time and are easier to find and search through as PDF files (which can be downloaded from the IRS) than as printed paper forms or booklets. Similar considerations apply to state tax forms, instructions, statutes, regulations, rulings, and opinions.

In short, stop wasting time collecting papers, booklets, and printouts, and start collecting your own free electronic reference library of downloaded forms, instructions, statutes, regulations, administrative rulings, court rules, and court opinions. All it takes is a few seconds to save what you download from the Internet, and then to properly name it and index it so it can be found again, instead of just printing it out, sticking it in a client file (or on a shelf), and never being able to find it again.