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Cowles 2000 is the latest version of an estate planning drafting and business development system. The same vendor offers the Trust Terminator, a postmortem program that produces much of the documentation required to deal with the decedent’s estate, whether trusts are involved or not. The program coordinates, to some extent with information developed in the drafting system, but can be useful even if you look elsewhere for your estate planning and drafting. INSTALLATION / DOCUMENTATION / SUPPORT Trust Terminator installed automatically from the second CD-ROM we were sent. The first CD-ROM contained a version that refused to work properly on our computer; product support knew exactly what the problem was — something esoteric involving the particular version of Microsoft Windows 98 and other programs that we were running — and overnighted a new version of the product that installed without difficulty. (We subsequently had no difficulty installing the first CD on a different computer.) The program requires only Windows 3.1 to run, although we couldn’t test that as we no longer have a 3.1 machine in the office. Printed documentation is weak, but the program does come with extensive context sensitive online help, including a tutorial and Web-based support, and one year of unlimited, free, toll free, telephone support weekdays from 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM, Eastern time. (Online help includes not only technical assistance but also legal references.) Also included in the year are upgrades or maintenance releases produced by the vendor, a private Web Site and membership on an e-mail discussion list. Support for subsequent years may be purchased at approximately 50 percent of the product’s initial purchase price. You can continue to use the product even if you decide not to pay for the second year, but it will not be up to date, and you won’t get support if you need it. TERMINATING TRUSTS Launch the program and you are presented with a screen that is blank except for “System,” “Edit”, “Generation” and “Help” pull down menus at the top. Taking the hint, we started with the “System” menu, and moved to “Preferences”, which let us enter office name and address, a word processor to use with the product — we clicked the “Microsoft Word for Windows, Ver 6.0 or higher” choice — and similar information. We found no obvious way of saving the entered information or even closing the data entry box — the “x” in the upper right hand corner didn’t work — and discovered that Trust Terminator uses a “Return” button to accomplish these tasks. The next step was to move to the “Generation” menu, create a new file and begin to enter information about the decedent, trusts and so forth. (We’re told that if the decedent’s estate was planned with the Cowles drafting system, this information automatically transfers to Trust Terminator.) Then we could begin to enter information about assets that must be transferred and draft the transfer documents, cover letters and the like that will be required to dispose of the estate. In general, the user selects a category and then the particular document within the category. Next is a dialog script to enter information required for the document or documents chosen. Finally, the program assembles the document as a Rich Text Format (RTF) file and, if you wish, launches the word processor. The developer even provides word processor macros that load a letterhead file, as appropriate, so the document can be assembled under your computer-generated letterhead. PROBLEMS AND COMPLAINTS It didn’t happen all of the time, but sometimes when we attempted to move to a new selection under a pulldown menu, the program opened a dialog box asking for the file we were requesting. When we didn’t know the name of the file and cancelled the operation, the program crashed. Technical support told us there must have been an installation problem, because this shouldn’t have happened. Our program was licensed for use in Illinois. This means, we were told, that deeds, powers of attorney and so forth use statutory Illinois forms. Presumably, if we wish to transfer a deceased client’s Florida Condominium, we should either retain local counsel or add the Florida version of the program. Retaining local counsel if you’re not double licensed might not be a bad idea as drafting a deed to transfer real property located in another state might be considered the unauthorized practice of law. But even if you are licensed to practice in the foreign state, Trust Terminator requires additional licensing if you wish a deed drafted for property in the other sate. But the biggest problem we have with the program is its limited concept. Settling an estate is a perfect application for a checklist that automatically tracks each item with current status and reminders. If, for example, it is necessary to transfer ownership of corporate stock, the lawyer will have to draft whatever stock power and affidavits that might be needed, send them to the executor for execution and, when received send them, together with the old stock certificate, death certificate and whatever else is needed, to the transfer agent. Eventually the new certificate is received and should be sent to the new owner. We think that as each document is generated, the program should note that in its database. If response to a letter should be expected within 30 days, a reminder should appear on the lawyer’s calendar 30 days hence. And at any time it should be possible to review what has been done on the estate by asset, by document type, or however else the lawyer wishes the information to be arranged. When the last act with respect to a particular asset is completed that particular asset moves from the “to do” column to the “completed” column. We assume that most offices doing such work maintain a list in some form on paper or using some other program. But as all of this information can be generated as a byproduct of Trust Terminator’s drafting work, Trust Terminator should maintain the information. Trust Terminator can display an asset list, with each completed asset marked as such, it cannot display interim status, nor does it generate automatic reminders and so forth. But in its current version, it just doesn’ t do the entire job. At $3000 for initial purchase including one year’s full support and a license for three users, and half that as an annual fee thereafter, Trust Terminator is certainly not inexpensive, but we think that it can be a big help with a complex estate. It would be a much bigger help, however, if it automatically tracked work in progress. SUMMARY Trust Terminator takes on much of the drafting required after death, whether the estate is laden with trusts or not. We liked what it does, but we wish it would do more. DETAILS Trust Terminator. Price $2,990.00. Annual fee after first year: $1,495.00. Requires IBM PC or compatible with 486 microprocessor, Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later, 35 Megabytes hard disk space, CD-ROM drive. Cowles Legal Systems, Inc. 3410 Sky Park Blvd. Eau Claire, WI 54701 Phone (800) 366-1730 or (715) 835-9199 Fax: (715) 835-7792 Web: www.cowleslegal.com E-mail: [email protected]

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