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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
16 McKay's Drive
Rockport, MA 01966
(978) 546-7898


April 2004

Estate Planning with Help from the Web

By Robert J. Ambrogi

If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, then it is easy to understand the value of an estate-planning lawyer, whose job it is to apply the laws governing both.

For the lawyers who toil in this field, the Internet offers a way to research tax and probate laws, keep current with new developments, and even obtain sample estate plans. While there are a surprisingly large number of estate planning sites on the Web, the bulk of them target consumers and offer little of use to professionals.

For lawyers, a good place to start is the Cornell University Legal Information Institute's page of Estate Planning Law Materials. Here you will find hypertext versions of Subtitle B of Title 26 of the United States Code, covering federal estate and gift taxes, as well as the related provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations. Also available are recent U.S. Supreme Court cases related to estate and gift taxes, and the texts of the Uniform Probate Code, Uniform Principal and Income Act, Uniform Trusts Act and Uniform Fiduciaries Act. The LII also includes links to state probate, property and tax statutes.

The Estate Planning Links Web Site has long been one of the most extensive collection of links to Web sites relating to estate planning. Originally compiled in 1995 by Dennis M. Kennedy, then a trusts and estates lawyer in St. Louis, Mo., the site is now maintained by Dennis Toman, an elder-law attorney in partner with Booth Harrington Johns & Toman, Greensboro, N.C. Unfortunately, Toman has added pop-up ads that are so annoying that they are sure to drive users away from the site.

A good alternative is Legal Research for Estate Planners. This is a comprehensive, well-organized and up-to-date collection of links to estate planning resources on the Web. Created by Jason E. Havens, an estate-planning lawyer in Destin, Fla., this annotated guide covers both national and state-specific sites and also indexes sites by topic and type of resource

A site that is popular among legal professionals and consumers alike is The Tax Prophet, virtual home of San Francisco lawyer and columnist Robert L. Sommers. Sommers writes prolifically for the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere on a variety of tax topics, estate planning among them. His site collects his many columns and scholarly articles. From the main page, follow the "Estate Planning" link to find his articles on estate and gift-tax planning and asset protection.

There is something unassumingly homespun about Trusts and Estates.net, from Fort Worth, Texas, estate planning lawyer Noel C. Ice. But beneath the amateurish fašade of this site, there is real substance. Ice has authored a virtual treatise on distributions from qualified plans and IRAs, which is available here in toto. He also offers a complete series of "nutshell" guides to estate planning topics, written for non-lawyers. A variety of other articles fill out the site, some written for lawyers, others for consumers.

SeniorLaw is described as a Web site where senior citizens, their families, attorneys, social workers and financial planners can access information about elder law, Medicare, Medicaid, estate planning, trusts, and the rights of the elderly and disabled. Hosted by the New York City law firm Goldfarb & Abrandt Salzman & Kutzin, it features collections of links to both elder law resources and elder law attorneys on the Web. The site is periodicallyregularly updated with news about changes in the law and important court rulings. A small library features articles on elder law.

Trusts & Trustees is a Web site about international trusts from the publishers of the journal of the same name. In addition to a selection of full-text articles on the uses and formation of international trusts, the site includes case notes, opinion and trend articles analyzing developments in trust law, and book reviews. For the most part, the full-text articles come from older issues of the journal; for more recent issues, only summaries of articles are available. Also included are summaries of court decisions, although these, too, are from older issues. You will have to buy a subscription to see the most recent articles and cases. An index lists alphabetically every case mentioned in a journal article with references to the article, author and issue number. Throughout, the focus is on the law of the United Kingdom, where the journal is published.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is an organization of lawyers who concentrate in legal issues affecting the elderly and disabled, including estate planning, guardianship and conservatorship, public benefits, and health care planning. NAELA divides its Web site into a restricted area for members and a public area. The public area has several useful features. For those seeking a lawyer, NAELA provides a directory of its members, which can be searched by lawyer name, firm name, location or area of specialization. NAELA's collection of links is particularly well done, with each link annotated with a brief description. The private members' area contains a member directory, discussion forums, publications, special-interest group sections and other academy information. It includes a feature allowing members to build their own Web pages, which other members can then view.

The Web site of the American Bar Association Section on Real Property, Probate and Trust Law offers general information about section activities, membership and publications. It has the full text of Probate & Property & Probate, its bimonthly magazine, although access to many articles is restricted to section members, while only selected articles are available to non-members. It also has the tables of contents of Real Property, Probate & Trust Journal, with selected issues available in full text, although, again, full text of the articles is available only to section members. Visitors can browse a catalog of estate planning books published by the ABA and find out about section-sponsored e-mail discussion lists. The more you drill down through the committee and sub-committee pages, the more you will find in the way of useful articles and reports.

Part of the site of The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel is limited to its members. The public area provides a well-organized little of substance. It includes a haphazard collection of links to estate planning and other Internet resources. It also has the tables of contents from its newsletter, but no ability to retrieve the full text of any article. A public area membership section allows anyone to search for ACTEC fellows by name or location.

One surefire way to learn about will drafting is to read the wills of the rich and powerful. You can do this at CourtTV's Wills of the Famous, where you will find the wills of celebrities from Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe Jackson to Joe DiMaggio, from Marilyn Monroe to Princess Diana, from Elvis and Lennon to Jerry Garcia.

For celebrity wills of an earlier vintage, visit the collection of famous wills assembled by the British National Archives. Here you will find color images of the original wills of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sir Francis Drake, Byron, Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, to name a few.


© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.