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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS / LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Software, Web Sites for Do-It-Yourself Lawyers

September 02, 1996|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

How many lawyers does it take to write a simple will or contract? None, if you have access to the right software or World Wide Web site. There are several programs on the market designed to help you create simple legal documents, and some Web sites give you free access to legal forms.

For example, Kiplinger's Home Legal Adviser (Windows, $29.95) from Block Financial Software ([800] 813-7940) helps you create more than 65 legal documents, including wills, trusts, letters of credit and power of attorney. Getting married? You can use the software to write a prenuptial agreement. You can also use it to generate complaint letters to companies or the Better Business Bureau, notices to your child's school and more.

Documents are divided by subject area such as wills, trusts and estates; real estate; health and medical; general contracts; power of attorney; finance and investment; and consumer and family. The portions of the document you need to personalize are highlighted in red. Click on them and you go to a section of the program that includes instructions and a place to enter your personal information.

You can use the program's built- in word processor to modify the document, or you can export it for use with your word-processing program. Before making any changes to a legal document, it's important to be aware that modifications could have legal implications. Unlike many of today's programs, Kiplinger's Home Legal Adviser doesn't require a CD-ROM drive. It comes on three floppy diskettes.

Block Financial Software also publishes Kiplinger's Small Business Attorney (49.95), which contains more than 80 contracts, letters and other legal documents.

Parsons Technology ([800] 679-0670) publishes Quicken Family Lawyer ($29), which provides 74 documents broken down by category: estate planning, family and personal, power of attorney, health and medical, real estate, credit, employment, financial and corporate and consumer. The corporate section even includes forms for minutes, notices of meetings and corporate proxies. If you're in a hurry, you can enter your credit card number to download the software from the company's Web site.

Once you select a document, you go into an area with a split screen. The top part of the screen asks you questions; the bottom displays the document as it is being created. The program provides you with an optional checklist of information you'll need to complete the form and then asks you questions. When you're done, you can edit the document using standard word-processing commands.

I found the program very easy to use and surpassingly complete. The residential lease form, for example, covered all the bases I'm aware of and included an optional inspection list to make sure the landlord and tenant agree on the condition of the property at the beginning and end of the lease. As with the Kiplinger program, which also comes with a word processor, documents can be modified if necessary.

In addition to these general-purpose legal programs, there are several programs designed specifically for writing wills and health-care directives. Nolo Press ([800] 992-6656), which specializes in legal self-help books and software, is now on its sixth version of WillMaker (Mac and Windows, $41.97). The program, which comes on two floppies, takes you through an interview to obtain the information needed for your will. At each point in the process, there's a "more information" button that explains the questions and how you might want to answer them.

The program comes with a very thick manual that explains everything you'd ever want to know about wills and family trusts. Fortunately, you don't have to read the manual to use the program and write a will.

If you have access to the Web, you can get many of these documents for free. Electronic Legal Source (http://www.e-legal.com/), for example, offers free forms you can print out, including a loan agreement, guaranty, bill of sale and even a "Web site design, storage and promotion" agreement.

Legaldocs (http://law.net/usalaw/index.htm), a service of USA Law Publications ([619] 488-8101), offers a wide range of legal documents that you can fill out while you're online.

The service is free for now, but the company plans to eventually charge a nominal annual subscription fee. There are currently 22 available documents, including a last will and testament, estate plan, power of attorney, promissory note, child-care authorization and residential lease request for copy of credit.

Other useful legal self-help Web sites include Lawlinks (http://www.lawlinks.com/), which offers resources for both consumers and attorneys, and Nolo Press' site, (http://www.nolo.com), which includes a reference library and a large selection of "Nolo's Favorite Lawyer Jokes."

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com. His World Wide Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com

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