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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS / LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Software That Helps Take Care of Life's Certainties

May 12, 1997|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Parsons Technology (http://www.parsonstech.com/), a subsidiary of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Intuit Inc., isn't taking any chances: The company has software for both of life's certainties, death and taxes.

It's a bit late this year to worry about their tax software, but as long as you're alive it's never too late to think about writing or updating your will, living trust or other estate document. While you're at it, you might give some thought to other legal needs too.

Parsons bills the deluxe version of Quicken Family Lawyer as "your complete family legal source," though that's something of an overstatement. If I ever was charged with a crime or embroiled in a major lawsuit, I'd prefer to put my trust in a crafty lawyer rather than a piece of software.

For many routine legal matters, though, this software might be all you need. The program comes in two versions. The basic Quicken Family Lawyer (Mac and Windows) comes on CD, floppy or by download from Parsons' Web site. The deluxe version is available only for Windows CD. The newest version, 8.0, was released earlier this month.

Quicken Family Lawyer can generate 88 legal documents, including several types of wills and living trusts. It also has documents for real estate transactions, health and medical issues, powers of attorney, consumer letters, employment agreements and credit and other financial issues.

And, getting back to life's other certainty, the program will also generate a response to an IRS notice or penalty. A corporate section includes minutes of meetings, waiver notices and a handful of other corporate documents.

The program begins by conducting an interview to help determine what documents you might need. Once you enter your name, address, marital status and other personal data, it automatically puts it in the appropriate place on any document you create. I used the program to generate a will, a living trust, a residential lease agreement and a child-care authorization and found it very easy to use.

Some legal documents vary depending on your state of residence. In those cases, the program asks you to specify your state and generates the appropriate document. The living will that I generated, for example, contains clauses that are specific to California.

Once the interview is completed, the document is displayed on the screen. You can print it, go back and change any of your answers or use the program's built-in text editor to make modifications. You can also save the file as a Microsoft word or rich-text format document to modify your word-processing program.

I plan to sign and use the will that I developed with the program, so to be sure it was adequate, I e-mailed a copy to Lamont Shadowens, a Redwood City, Calif., attorney who specializes in estate planning. He said it was fine for my relatively uncomplicated situation, but cautioned that some people need the advice and customization you can only get from an attorney.

The deluxe version, which comes on a CD-ROM, has three additional modules. The estate planner helps you generate a comprehensive plan for dealing with estate issues. The law dictionary provides definitions for 6,500 legal terms, and the final section came from a rather surprising source: In an apparent case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," the American Bar Assn. licensed Parsons to include an interactive version of its 732-page ABA Family Legal Guide.

The guide covers a variety of topics, including buying and selling real estate, neighborhood disputes, warranties, credit issues, marriage and divorce, child support and the rights of older Americans.

The estate planner module could turn out to be the most important part of this program. A combination guide and interactive work sheet, it asks you lots of important questions about your particular situation and creates a plan outlining what you need to do not only for your heirs but also to protect yourself as you age.

Other legal self-help programs include Do-it-Yourself Lawyer (Windows CD) from Expert Software and Kiplinger's Home Legal Advisor from Bloc Financial Software.

There also are several Web sites with legal documents that you can download at no charge. Its Legal.com (http://www.itslegal.com/) offers an impressive number of documents organized by category, such as auto, family, business, real estate, immigration, employment and copyright and intellectual property.

LegalDocs (http://legaldocs.com/) from USA Law Publications offers some free legal forms and others that you pay for. Free documents include a short-form last will and testament, living will, durable health-care power of attorney, promissory note, request for credit report, child-care authorization, automobile insurance claim and homeowner's insurance claim. Other documents are available from $1.50 to $24.75 each. For each of the documents, you must fill out an on-screen questionnaire.

If you want to view wills of the now-deceased rich and famous, check out Court TV's Web site (http://www.courttv.com/library/newsmakers/wills/) for "wills of notable people," including Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, Richard Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Elvis Presley.

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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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