The Internet for Estates Lawyers
Written Materials by Daniel B. Evans
Program Presentation by
Daniel B. Evans and
George S. Forde Jr. (GForde@stradley.com)
[This page was created for an educational program,
"Planning for the Future; Simple-To-Use Software
for the Technologically-Challenged Estates Lawyer,"
held at the Annual Meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association
on December 3, 1996.]
Copyright 1996 Daniel B. Evans
The Internet for Estates Lawyers
The Internet (or "Net") is a global network of networks. It is not owned by
any corporation or government, but arose out of an experimental
project of the Department of Defense to create a network of
computers that could survive the disruptions of a war or other
calamity. Although it has been dominated in the past by universities
and other educational organizations, who used it to share computer
resources, more and more commercial organizations have tapped into
it as a cheap and efficient way to send electronic mail and other information around the country and the world. It is
now the closest thing we have to an "information superhighway."
The Internet provides several different types of services to its
users. Different services can be used for different tasks, and
serve different functions.
The most common service provided by the Internet is "electronic
mail" (or "email"), which allows individuals or groups to send
messages accross the country. Every service that
claims to provide access to the Internet should be able to send
and receive email.
In the world of the Internet, all people who send and receive email
have an address in the form of a "user id" and a "domain name,"
separated by a "@" symbol. The domain name is usually (but not
always) the name of the on-line service or Internet service
provider ("ISP"), and has an extension like ".com" or ".edu" or
".org" which specifies whether the domain is that of a commercial
company, an educational institution, or another type of organization.
Sending and receiving email requires software to read, print, compose,
and otherwise deal with email messages.
List servers are a type of email service. They are computers
(or computer programs) that maintain mailing lists automatically,
allowing groups of users to
share messages among themselves through email. The advantage of
a list server is that users can subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the
list by sending a message to the list server, and email messages
sent to the list server can be copied and distributed
automatically to everyone on the mailing list.
Newsgroups serve a purpose similar to list servers, because they
allow large numbers of people to send and receive messages to and
large group. However, the technology is very different.
Instead of sending individual messages to each member of a group,
news servers collect all messages for all groups and only distribute
messages to individual users when asked to do so.
There are newsgroups devoted to tax and legal issues, as well as
political, social, religious, and recreational subjects. However,
the discussions are rarely focused or technical enough to be of
value to practicing lawyers.
The Internet File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a way of transferring
files between computers on the Internet. It is most commonly used
by vendors making software "patches" or "drivers" available to
customers, or for distributing other kinds of large binary files.
A "gopher" is a simple menu-driven way of locating and
displaying text files.
It has been largely eclipsed by the World Wide Web, but there are
several gopher sites that are still active.
The fastest growing service on the Internet is the "World Wide Web"
(usually just "WWW" or "the web"). In fact, for many people "the
Internet" is synonymous with the web, because of all the
publicity (some would say "hype") that the web and web
sites have received.
Using special software called
"web browsers" (or just "browsers"), users
can view documents through the Internet which include both text
and graphics, and can move from document to document with a
click of a mouse. Movement from document is possible because
most documents contain "hypertext" links to
other documents. While viewing a web document with hypertext links,
a user can use a
mouse to click on a word, phrase, or picture within the document
and cause a linked document to be loaded that provides more information
about the word, phrase, or picture.
The next document does not have to reside on the same computer as
the document to which it was linked, so clicking on a menu found
on a computer at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) can automatically
load a document from a computer at the University of California at
San Diego (or Cambridge University, England). It is not at all
unusual, while looking for information on the web, for a user to
jump from computer to computer, across the country, or even around
the world, without ever being conscious of it.
The addresses used to locate web pages (and other Internet services)
are called "Uniform Resource Locators" or "URLs."
For a web address,
the URL will be in the form:
where "http:" signifies that a web page is being requested,
"evans-legal.com" is the address of the web server (the computer
that handles requests for web pages), "/dan/" is a
subdirectory within the hard disk of the web server, and
"otherpa.html" is the name of the file being requested.
Once a connection is made to the
Internet, and a web browser is running on the user's computer,
an address can be entered into the browser and a connection
made to any web page from anywhere in the United States.
[Table of Contents]
So what can an estates lawyer in Philadelphia do on (or
with) the Internet?
Some clients (particularly business clients) view email as
a quick, inexpensive way to communicate, and will actually
prefer conducting some business through email rather than
regular mail (sometimes called "snail mail").
List servers can be a good way of learning about new
developments in the law and discussing technical issues with
other lawyers. The following lists might be suitable for an
Another use of the World Wide Web is for lawyer marketing
or publishing (subject to various local regulations and ethical
- Probate and Trust Law List
- The Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the ABA
has set up a mailing list for
discussions on estate planning, estate administration, and other
matters of interest to Division members. One of the first
messages over the mailing list (in early August of 1995) was an
announcement of the decision of the IRS to revoke Revenue Ruling
79-353. Other discussions on the list
have included whether the power to purchase life insurance makes
a trust a grantor trust, the problems in using a revocable trust
to make lifetime gifts, and the use of income-only charitable
To subscribe to the list, send an email message to
subject and only the following text in the body of the message:
subscribe aba-ptl <your name>. Your
name is not required, and should not have brackets around
- LPM-Counselors List
- This is a list from the Law Practice Management Section of the
ABA. It is devoted to technology and practice management issues,
and is not limited to estate lawyers, but also includes
discussions relating to business, real estate, intellectual
property, international, and tax practices. To subscribe, send a
with no subject and only the following text in the body of the
message: subscribe lpm-counselors.
Just as lawyers give firm resumes or brochures to prospective
clients, or distribute firm newsletters to past, present, or prospective
clients, law firms are using the web to describe their firms and
make information available to the public on legal
issues on which the firm has some expertise. However:
- One newsletter won't necessarily create a lot of business. To make
an impact, a newsletter has to provide interesting and useful
information on a regular basis. Similarly, a web page has to be
updated frequently with new information to make it someplace that
potential clients will check frequently for information, or that
other sites will link to as a source of useful information.
- Anything you put on a web page about yourself, your firm, or
your services, is a "communication" that is subject to Rule 7.1 of
the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, and may be
"advertising" within the meaning of Rule 7.2. Other states
have other rules, and it is not yet clear how different states
might be able to impose regulations on web pages originating
in other states.
Just like lawyers donote time to educating the public on
legal issues and answering general legal questions in public
forums, partly as a service to the public and partly to increase
their own visibility, some lawyers will spend time time answering
legal questions of the general public through legal newsgroups on
There are occasional opportunities for referrals from other
lawyers on some of the legal list servers.
Another use of the Internet is tracking down legal and factual
information, usually through the World Wide Web.
A number of governmental agencies, courts, and other organizations
have begun publishing useful information on the Internet, including
- Internal Revenue Code
- The complete text of the Internal Revenue Code can be found at
two different sites:
If you want only the Estate and Gift Tax provisions, see:
There is also a copy of the entire U.S. Code online at:
Warning: These copies of the Internal Revenue Code, and other
legal materials on the Internet, may be old and may not include
the latest legislative changes.
- Code of Federal Regulations
- The complete Code of Federal Regulations (including IRS
regulations) can be found at the Internet Law Library of the U.S.
House of Representatives:
- Federal Register
- The Federal Register (and other publications of the Government
Printing Office) are now available from two different sites:
http://thorplus.lib.purdue.edu/gpo. The Federal Register can be searched to find
recently proposed or final tax regulations, as well as other
notices from the Internal Revenue Service.
- Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service is on the Internet, and has its own
World Wide Web home page at:
There is not much substantive information there at the
moment, but you can download graphical images of IRS forms,
including the federal estate tax return (Form 706) and the
fiduciary income tax return (Form 1041). At present, there does
not seem to be any way to obtain Revenue Rulings (or the Internal
Revenue Bulletin) through the Internet.
- Federal Court Decisions
There does not seem to be any index or digest of tax decisions,
although there are ways to find federal court decisions
generally. Supreme Court decisions are available within one day
after they are announced, through a program called Project
Hermes. Although the decisions are available from a number of
cites, a good starting point is:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/supct.table.html. The Supreme
Court decisions collected at Cornell Law School
include decisions from 1990 through 1995, and the syllabi of the
decisions can be searched for key words. Supreme Court decisions
from 1937 through 1975 (volumes 300-422 of the U.S. Reports) were
recently made available at
Decisions of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are now
beginning to be published on the Internet. Only current
decisions are available. There is also very indexing of
decisions, so don't cancel your Lexis or Westlaw subscription
just yet. For a directory of the circuits, see:
[Table of Contents]
Despite the presence of several large law schools in Pennsylvania,
including a major Internet site at Villanova Law School
(http://www.law.vill.edu), there are very few Pennsylvania
materials presently available on the Internet. For example, some
have published the full text of all statutes and court rules on the
Internet (such as California, Colorado, and Florida, among others),
but the Pennsylvania materials now available on the Internet are
scattered and still being developed.
- Pennsylvania Department of Revenue
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has opened a web page
at http://www.epix.net/homepage/parev. Originally, most of the
materials relate to the new Tax Amnesty Program, but there are
summaries of other tax laws, and additional information may
become available in the future.
- Pennsylvania Orphans' Court Rules
Dan Evans has published the Pennsylvania Orphans' Court Rules,
as well as local rules of the Philadelphia Orphans' Court and
some other counties, through his own home page, at
have been coded with the "hypertext" links that are possible through
the web, so a rule that cross-references
another rule is linked to that other rule. This means that a lawyer
can click on the reference and immediately view the text of the
referenced rule, without having to "flip pages" or lose his or her
place in the original rule. For example, Phila. O.C. Rule *77.1
contains a reference
to Rule *1.2. The text of the cross-reference has
been coded with a link to the location of the rule, so that the
text of the cross-reference will appear to be either underlined or
colored, depending on the web browser being used. When the user
clicks with the mouse on the linked text, the computer will immediately
load and display the text of Rule *1.2. In a similar fashion, there
are links to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules, and links to
earlier versions of rules that have been recently amended.
- Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax
Dan Evans has also published the full text of the Pennsylvania
and Estate Tax Act one his Internet web pages. Like the Orphans'
rules, the Act is formatted with hypertext cross-references.
The table of contents can be found at
- Pennsylvania Legislation
Several Pennsylvania legislators have established their own pages with
information on pending or enacted legislation. For a good example,
see the web page of Representative Lawrence Curry (Mont. Co.) at
[Table of Contents]
Several bar associations have been publishing information on the
Internet that can be valuable, both original information and
pointers to other relevant information on the Internet.
- ABA Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section
- The home page of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law
Section of the American Bar Association can be found at
- ABA LPMS Estates Interest Group
- The Law Practice Division of the ABA's Section of Law Practice
Management has a web page with information on technology and
management issues of interest to estate lawyers. The URL is
- Philadelphia Bar Association
- Pennsylvania Bar Association
- Allegheny County Bar Association
(Includes access to local court decisions.)
- Delaware County Bar Association
- Erie County Bar Association
(Includes a copy of the
Rules of Civil Procedure for Erie County, as well as pointers to
other sources of information on Pennsylvania law on the Internet.)
[Table of Contents]
In addition to legal sites that have attempted to organize legal
information, there are web sites that include searchable indexes
of the entire Internet (or at least large parts of it). For example,
the Alta Vista site established by Digital Equipment Corporation has the
full text of at least 16 million pages indexed, and more are indexed
every night, so a user can find any of those web pages based on a
search of combinations of key words. As judicial opinions and statutes
are added to the World Wide Web,
it should be possible to use these search engines to find judicial
opinions, statutes, and other legal materials based on a search of
the words used in the materials, just like legal materials can be
searched in Lexis or Westlaw.
Some of the more popular search engines are:
- Alta Vista
[Table of Contents]
One of the nice things about the Internet is that it's not owned by
anyone, so you can get access to the Internet through any email system
or service provider you want.
If you want subscribe to a service like America Online, Compuserve,
it will provide you with either a local or 800 telephone number for
your computer to use, and all of the software you need for both email
and web access.
If you feel more confident, or want more services (such as your own
domain name, your own web pages, or an ISDN connection), you can
subscribe to a national or local Internet service provider ("ISP").
The ISP will give you the information you need to configure your software,
and will either give you public domain (or "shareware") software, or
tell you how to get it. (The new
operating systems such as Windows 95, MacOS 7.5, and OS/2
Warp, also include built-in Internet access software, so an
increasing number of people can access the Internet through an ISP.)
National ISP's include Pipeline
USA (703-904-4100) and Interramp (800-774-0852). A local Philadelphia
area ISP is Net Access (215-576-8669).
For a computer running Windows 3.1x, you really need at least four pieces
of software: a dialer program to communicate with the ISP using
either SLIP ("Serial Line Internet Protocol") or
PPP ("Point to Point Protocol"), a file called "WINSOCK.DLL" that
allows Windows programs to communicate with the dialer program, a
mail program to read and send email, and a browser program to view
documents on the World Wide Web. Most ISP's should be able to
supply inexpensive shareware software for these functions, or
tell you how to get the software you need.
[Table of Contents]
For additional information on the Internet and how to use it,
- G. Burgess Allison,
The Lawyer's Guide to the Internet,
(American Bar Association 1995).
- Daniel B. Evans,
Wills, Trusts, and Technology:
An Estate Lawyer's Guide to Automation, (American Bar Association 1996).
- Joseph G. Hodges Jr., "A Lawyer's Guide to the Internet,"
Probate and Property, Vol. 9., No. 3 (May/June 1995), p. 38.
- David P. Vandagriff, "A Storehouse of Resources," ABA Journal,
Vol. 8 , p. 57 (Sept. 1995).
- Peter W. Martin, "Prospecting the Internet," ABA Journal,
Vol. 81, p. 52 (Sept. 1995).
[Table of Contents]
The Pennsylvania Estate and Trust Cybrary
Daniel B. Evans, Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 27370
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Telephone: (215) 233-0988
Telecopier: (215) 233-1887