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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. 13, No. 6 (November/December 1999).]
New Versions of Old Friends II
By Daniel B. Evans, Technology-Probate Editor
This column continues a look at fiduciary accounting programs that have been updated and rewritten for the Windows operating environment. Unfortunately, all three products to be covered were still in development as this column went to press, and advance "beta" copies were available for only two, West Group's FATE and Lackner 6-in-1. This column will therefore provide a peek at two products that are still being developed and may be available at or around the time this issue of Probate & Property is mailed. The next column (in the March/April 2000 issue) will look at the third product (from TEdec) and provide updates on the actual releases of the products covered in this series.
The new Windows version of the Fiduciary Accounting for Trusts and Estates (FATE) program developed by Mark Gillett and Konrad Schmidt will be part of Estate Practice System 99 from the West Group. In many ways, it is a rather literal translation of the DOS program to the Windows environment, but there are several new features that will make the program easier to use.
The system of account numbers used to identify assets and transactions is gone, and the user can make all of the necessary identifications by name, either by typing or by selecting from a pop-up list.
The new program is also easier to navigate. The user can employ the same window to enter cash receipts and disbursements, as well as non-cash transactions (such as stock splits). Thus, one can switch between different kinds of transactions by just clicking on a button, without having to exit to a menu. The list of "accounts" (i.e., assets and types of transactions) is also easier to navigate, because the list is an outline, sorted by category and name, and the user can move assets from category to category or add and edit categories. When a user is looking for transactions to edit, the program provides a list of transactions, sorted by number or date. Similarly, when looking at an asset, the user can view a list of all capital transactions affecting that asset.
The integration of the various pieces of the Estate Practice System seems to be improving. The related parts of an estate or trust (FATE for fiduciary account, FET for federal estate tax return and FIT for fiduciary income tax returns) are now being collected around the estate or trust, although it is still necessary to exchange data through a "gateway" between FATE and the tax preparation modules.
The Windows version can import and export files from the DOS version of FATE, although there have been some changes in the data files. The new program can save multiple values for assets, so that there can be a history of values for an asset. When a report is printed out, the program will automatically use the value that precedes the effective date of the report. The program can also keep track of different prices for different lots of the same stock purchased at different times, so that when some of the stock is later sold, the user can choose among the different lots.
The check writing and printing functions also have been enhanced, and there is a very useful checkbook reconciliation function that allows the user to check off which checks have cleared and compare the cleared totals with the bank statement balance.
The strengths of the Lackner 6-in-1 program have always been its integration and its system of codes that lets the user define exactly how to report the asset or transaction for all purposes (fiduciary accounting, death tax returns and income tax returns). The Windows version is designed to build on those strengths.
The fiduciary accounting, death tax returns and income tax returns are all "tabs" on a multi-part form, so that the user can switch from one type of return or report to another with just a click on the tabs. The goal is a "write once" system in which the user can enter data once and then use it to prepare all necessary accountings and tax returns.
Most information is entered in "General Information," because most of the information is shared. The specialized screens for specific tax returns or preparation of fiduciary accounts are used only to enter the special information needed for the particular forms or reports and to print the forms or reports. (For example, the federal estate tax credit for property previously taxed is needed only for the Form 706.)
Although the program still uses numeric codes for assets and transactions, there is a section of the screen in which a user may enter the beginning of the description. The program then provides a list of categories and subcategories from which to select. When none of the categories matches a particular asset or transaction, the user can customize the tax or other characteristics to achieve the desired tax treatment or reporting result.
This new version has been written in Filemaker Pro, and the Lackner Group is planning to distribute the product with a full version of Filemaker Pro that will provide some unique capabilities. For example, users will be able to draw on data in the system and merge the data into letters or forms created by the user to comply with local practice. It will also be possible to import and export data from other database programs, which is usually not possible with the proprietary data systems used in fiduciary accounting programs. In addition, the program will run under either Windows or Macintosh, making it the only fiduciary administration software available for the Macintosh platform.
Fiduciary Accounting for Trusts & Estates (FATE)
545 Wescott Rd.
Eagan, MN 55123
The Lackner Group, Inc.
700 North Bell Ave., Ste. 290
Pittsburgh, PA 15106
(800) 709-1041, Fax: (412) 279-6426
And not yet reviewed:
TEdec Fiduciary Accounting System
TEdec Systems, Inc.
207 Court Street
Little Valley, NY 14755
(800) 345-2154, Fax: (716) 938-6155
A complete listing of software products and services for estate and trust lawyers (originally published as an appendix to my book Wills, Trusts, and Technology) can be found at http://evans-legal.com/dan/wtt-new.html
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