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December 1997

Copyright 1997 Robert J. Ambrogi

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 lawyers 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 unfortunate fact is that the bulk of them are aimed at consumers and offer little of use to professionals. This article skips these consumer sites in favor of those useful to the legal professional.

Starting Points

The Estate Planning Links Web Site,, is the most extensive collection of links to Web sites relating to estate planning, estate and gift taxes, elder law, probate and trusts, charitable planning, estate planning software, and related issues. It is compiled by St. Louis, Mo., lawyer Dennis M. Kennedy. A few of the links are outdated, but overall this is the perfect place to start your estate-planning research.

Law Journal EXTRA! Wills, Trusts & Estates,, is a compendium of current news articles, in-depth analyses of recent developments, law-firm memoranda, cases and statutes, and links to other resources. Recent articles examined the use of the family foundation as an estate planning tool and reported on a New York case allowing a jury trial in a trust challenge.

If it is law you are seeking, start at the Cornell University Legal Information Institute’s page of Estate Planning Law Materials, Here you will find hypertext versions of 26 U.S.C. Subtitle B, covering federal estate and gift taxes, and the related provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations. Also available are recent 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.

Although oriented to consumers, California Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law,, offers much for lawyers, regardless of whether they are in California. Among the features of this site, from lawyer Mark J. Welch, are an analysis of estate and gift tax aspects of the 1997 Budget Act, a collection of articles by Welch and others, a forms library, and links to other estate-planning sites. A popular feature is Welch’s collection of famous people’s wills.

Teahan & Constantino,, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., firm, is home to "Tax and Estate Planning Resources on the Web," an article examining the best Web sites for tax and estate planning professionals. Written in 1995 and last updated in June 1996, it is out of date, but still useful as a primer on estate-planning research. Also at the site is a sample family estate plan, together with instruments.

The U.S. House Internet Law Library, Trusts and Estates,, offers links to state statutes and court rules relating to trusts and estates, as well as to a number of full-text articles on the topic. Not as comprehensive as Dennis Kennedy’s site.

Findlaw’s collections of topical links are often among the best places to start legal research, but its Wills, Trusts, Estates and Probate page,, is a disappointment when compared against a comprehensive collection such as Kennedy’s.


The American Bar Association’s Section on Real Property, Probate and Trust Law,, offers information about section activities, membership and publications. It has the tables of contents of Property & Probate magazine and Real Property, Probate & Trust Journal, with selected articles from the magazine. Also available are a handful of current-interest articles. A page on Internet resources has a good list of estate-planning discussion groups.

The ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Estate Planning And Probate Interest Group,, has a simple, one-page Web site with little substance. There are, however, three useful articles: "Guidelines for Automating Estate Planning Documents," "Alternate Billing Strategies in Estate Administrations," and "Wills, Trusts, and Technology: An Estate Lawyer's Guide to Automation."

The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys,, divides its Web site into sections for lawyers, consumers and members. The members’ section requires a password for access. The site tells nothing of what resources are available to members and an e-mail to the Web master went unanswered. The lawyers’ section of the site is generally a membership brochure. The entire site appears not to have been updated since August 1996, including the "news" page, which is dated September 1996.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys,, divides its Web site into a restricted area for members and a public area. The public area offers little but the promise of a link page "under construction." The private area is described as containing a member directory, discussion forums, publications and academy information.

American College of Trust and Estate Counsel,, limits the bulk of its Web site to ACTEC fellows. A request for information about what the private part of the site contains was not answered as of press time. The public part of the site has little but information about ACTEC.

The National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys,, is a network of estate-planning law firms. Its Web site so far has only general interest for consumers about estate planning. It will eventually have a searchable directory of members and a restricted, members-only area.

Practice Resources

Ernst & Young Tax Services,, is one of the best overall sites on the Web for tax news and analysis. The site offers a wide variety of articles delivering both news and analysis.

The Tax Prophet,, is San Francisco lawyer and columnist Robert L. Sommers. His Web site, collecting his many columns and scholarly articles, is popular among professionals and consumers alike.

Trusts & Trustees,, is a resource-rich Web site about international trusts. In addition to a selection of full-text articles on the uses and formation of international trusts, the site includes descriptions of the trust laws of some 30 selected countries, summaries of recent court decisions relating to trusts, information on new trust legislation, and links to related sites. Unfortunately, much of the information is not dated, so the user is unable to determine its timeliness. Some of that which is dated, such as the case notes, suggest that the site has not been updated recently.

CCH Incorporated,, provides tax news and a tax research library via its Web site. Both, however, require subscriptions. Newcomers can get a tour of these services and information about pricing.

Hale and Dorr Trusts and Estates Bulletin,, publishes full text articles focusing on current developments of interest to trusts and estates lawyers. Site includes archives back to 1994.

Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal,, publishes selected excerpts and full-text articles dating back to 1995, many of which are of interest to estate planners outside as well as in Michigan.

Beachwalk Estate Planning Bookstore,, is an association between Beachwalk Financial and the online bookseller providing estate-planning books for purchase via the Web. Oddly, you are better off going straight to ( and searching the key words "estate planning," which returns a more comprehensive list of titles. Books listed included titles for lawyers and non-lawyers.

RIA Estate Planner’s Alert,, offers a different, full-text article each week focusing on current tax news of interest to estate planners. On a recent visit, the article was, "Sixth Circuit Now Says Administration Expenses Must Be Necessary to Be Deductible."

The Estate Planning Legal Research Guide,, from the University of Kansas School of Law, is a simple card-catalog listing of treatises on the topic, with a handful of links thrown in for good measure.


Cowles Legal Systems,, designs software for estate planning lawyers. From its Web site, you can download demonstration versions of its various products.

ES: The Estate Plan Analyzer,, is a program for analyzing estate plan options, designed for both professionals and consumers. A demonstration version can be downloaded from the Web site.

The 1997 estate/gift tax and financial calculator,, is DOS software available to download free, courtesy of an Illinois estate-planning service.

Leimberg & LeClair,, publishes books, software and audio tapes for estate planners. Its Web site allows you to browse its catalog of products.

Massachusetts Probate and Divorce Forms,, is a program for creating forms for Massachusetts probate and domestic relations cases. The site offers a few sample forms for downloading.

Software for the Estate Planning Law Office,, lists software that is useful in an estate planning, trust, and probate law practice. Maintained by Mark J. Welch, whose California Estate Planning Web site is reviewed above, the page contains brief descriptions of most products, reviews of some by Welch, and links to Web sites, where available.

Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of, a monthly newsletter about the Internet ( He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (978) 546-7898.

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