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[Note: This column was originally published by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the American Bar Association in Probate & Property, Vol. 9, No. 6, p. 32 (November/December 1995). There have been changes in Internet list servers and Web pages since this column was originally written, and so some descriptions have been edited or deleted, while others have been added. D.B.E. 9/30/96.]
By Daniel B. Evans, Technology-Probate Editor
The Internet continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. Recent months have also seen a phenomenal growth in interest and activity on the Internet within the ABA, at least in part because of the ABA's decision to terminate its ABAnet contract with AT&T. ABAnet is no longer limited to AT&T services, and the ABA has contracted for a World Wide Web server and other Internet services, all of which are now accessible through any Internet service provider.
For an explanation of the Internet and some general guidance on getting started, See Joseph G. Hodges Jr., "A Lawyer's Guide to the Internet," 9 Prob. & Prop. 38 (May/June 1995). This column will provide an update on Section activities on the Internet, as well as information on other activities and resources that should be of interest to lawyers wishing to learn more about estate and trust law through the Internet.
The Internet is a global network of networks that provides several different kinds of services, including:
Electronic mail (or "e-mail") is the most basic service, and every group or service that claims to provide access to the Internet should be able to send and receive e-mail.
List servers maintain mailing lists automatically. Mailing lists are useful, because they allow groups of users to share messages among themselves through e-mail. 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 e-mail messages sent to the list server can be copied and distributed automatically to everyone on the mailing list.
The World Wide Web (WWW or the Web) is the most sophisticated and fastest growing service on the Internet. Using special software called "Web browsers," users can view documents through the Internet that include graphics and hypertext links to other documents. While viewing a Web document, 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. For example, clicking on a menu found on a computer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, can automatically load a document from a computer at the University of California at San Diego or Cambridge University in England.
Because it requires only e-mail, and every major electronic mail service (including MCI Mail, AT&T Mail, Compuserve, America Online, Prodigy, Delphi, and Genie) allows mail to be sent to and from the Internet - any lawyer with access to e-mail can use list servers. The Web requires more specialized software, either through an online service that has created its own Web browser (e.g., America Online) or through a connection to an Internet service provider (ISP) and one of a number of popular Web browsers such as Mosaic, Cello, or Netscape, all of which are available free. All of the services discussed in this column should be available to a lawyer or law firm through an account with an Internet service provider that could cost $20-$35 per month, a computer connection through a local telephone call, and Macintosh or Windows software that is available at little or no cost.
The Section has already established a presence on the Internet, both through a Web page and e-mail discussion lists.
The Section home page is accessible through the ABA home page at: http://www.abanet.org, or directly at: http://www.abanet.org/rppt.
These addresses are the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of the ABAnet and Section home pages. Once a connection is made to the Internet, and a Web browser is running on the user's computer, the addresses can be entered into the browser and a connection made to the ABA from anywhere in the United States.)
The Probate and Trust Division has also 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. (See F.Y.I., Probate & Property, Vol. 9, No. 6, p. 4 (November/December 1995).) 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, the use of income-only charitable remainder unitrusts.
To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe aba-ptl <your real name>. Your name is not required, and should not have brackets around it. Shortly after sending that message, you will receive an e-mail message confirming that you have subscribed and giving you instructions on how to use the mailing list. The list is presently open to the public, but may be limited to members of the Section in the future. In order to make sure that you are not deleted from the list if the list is restricted to Section members, you should send an e-mail message to email@example.com with the words My ABA Number in the subject line and only your name and ABA membership number in the body of the message.
In addition to the ABA-PTL mailing list, there are some other lists that may be of interest to estate and trust lawyers:
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 message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe lpm-counselors.
This is an open, unmoderated list for discussions involving estate planning. Subscribers include lawyers, accountants, financial planners, and other interested professionals. To subscribe, send a message to Estateplanningemail@example.com with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe.
This is an open, unmoderated list for charitable fund raising and planned giving, and sometimes deals with charitable tax planning and related issues. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe gift-pl <your real name>. Your real name is optional (and should not include the brackets).
Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group that publishes a variety of tax materials, has started some moderated mailing lists, including one on estate and gift taxes. This is not an automated list server and mailings should occur about once a week. To subscribe, send a message to email@example.com with subscribe me in the subject line.
The Tax Section of the ABA now operates a list that discusses tax questions generally, and is not restricted to estate and gift tax issues. However there have been a number of discussions of limited family partnerships, limited liability companies, and other corporate and partnership issues of interest to estate lawyers. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and the only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe aba-tax.
Another general tax list. To subscribe, send a message to email@example.com with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe lnet-tax <your real name>. Your real name is optional (and should not include the brackets).
Another general tax list. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe fedtax-l.
Warning: When you subscribe to a list server, you will get a message with instructions about the list, including how to unsubscribe. Keep a copy of that message; you will need it if you ever get tired of the e-mail messages and want to take your name off the list.
The Section's Web page is a good place to check on Section news, but where does an estates lawyer go for legal research?
The complete text of the Internal Revenue Code can be found at two different sites: http://www.tns.lcs.mit.edu/uscode/ or http://www.fourmilab.ch/ustax/ustax.html.
There is also a copy of the entire U.S. Code online at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode.
If you want only the Estate and Gift Tax provisions, see: http://www.tns.lcs.mit.edu/uscode/TITLE_26/Subtitle_B/toc.html or http://www.fourmilab.ch/ustax/www/t26-B.html.
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.
The complete Code of Federal Regulations (including IRS regulations) can be found at the Internet Law Library of the U.S. House of Representatives: http://law.house.gov/cfr.htm.
The Federal Register (and other publications of the Government Printing Office) are now available from two different sites: http://ssdc.ucsd.edu/gpo or 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.
The Internal Revenue Service is on the Internet, and has its own World Wide Web home page at: http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/. 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.
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 http://www.fedworld.gov/supcourt/index.htm.
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: http://www.law.cornell.edu/opinions.html or http://www.ilrg.com/courts.html.
Only a handful of state statutes are available through the Internet, and even fewer state court decisions. One of the most complete lists of state statutes on the Internet can be found at the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School, including a list of state probate statutes for Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, New York, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The list of probate statutes can be found at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/state_statutes.html#probate. The text of the Uniform Probate Code can be found at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uniform/probate.html. There is also a "Trust and Estates" page in the Internet Law Library of the U.S. House of Representatives: http://law.house.gov/112.htm.
A listing of the states that have published opinions on the Internet, and pointers to those decisions, can be found at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/opinions.html. Finally, Washburn University Law School has an index of state law resources that might be helpful: http://lawlib.wuacc.edu/washlaw/uslaw/statelaw.html.
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 http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpdiv/estate.html.
Several lawyers and law firms that have begun posting useful information on the Internet. Space forbids listing more than a few sites, unfortunately. The Trusts and Estates Bulletin of Hale & Dorr, Boston, Massachusetts, is at: http://www.haledorr.com/publications/trust/TrustDirectory.html. Similar client-oriented articles have been published online by the Milwaukee law firm of Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deur, Norris & Rieselbach, S.C., at: http://www.rbvdnr.com/te/tepage.htm. Ikard & Golden, P.C., Austin, Texas, has published articles on Texas law, as well as 1995 probate legislation in Texas, at: http://www.io.com/user/karisch/ikard&golden.html. Mark J. Welch's collection of California resources, links to other estate lawyers, and famous wills can be found at: http://www.ca-probate.com/. My materials on Pennsylvania estate law can be found at: http://evans-legal.com/dan.
The Internet changes so quickly that much of the information in this column will need updating by the time it is published. For the latest information, check my home page at: http://evans-legal.com/dan. If anyone knows of any other estate or trust resources that are available through the Internet, please send information about them to me at the email address below.
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