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A Product Review by Paul D. Warner

Research Institute of America's new Estate Planning System, scheduled for release in August 1996, is a comprehensive customizable estate planning and compliance tool in a CD-ROM format. The Estate Planning System (EPS) consists of a series of modules from which practitioners can choose based on their professional needs. It is an outgrowth of the Estate Planning Advisor (EPA), which was released last year and which I also reviewed in preparing this column. The two packages provide convenient research tools for those involved with estate and financial planning of high-net-worth individuals.

Both rely on Folio's search engine, which provides user-friendly Windows features such as navigating with a mouse, point-and-click command launching, and an intuitive graphical user interface.

The Windows capabilities include--

* query templates, which can be used to construct quick, specific, and effective search queries in seconds.

* a navigational aid (called Navigator), which tracks every file (referenced to by RIA as an Infobase) that is opened, every search that is executed, and all data that is linked (referenced).

* a time and activity log, which simplifies tracking billable research time.

* a new, extensive Help system.

The CD-ROM contains the setup program, which is executed by using the standard Windows install procedure.

Starting the Program

The opening screen contains the usual Window's drop menu selections such as file and edit. In addition, it contains the following items when the full menu option is selected in the preferences menu: search, layout, customize, and RIA tools. The preferences menu provides two other settings (browse and personalize), which provide fewer choices than the full menu. Additionally, the preference menu provides a number of other options including ribbon bars, editing, and security options. One useful option is the status bar, which shows the item originally accessed even though the screen has been scrolled to something else. The number of status bar text lines can be varied from 0 to 50.

The desktop also contains a moveable tool belt below the Window's menu line. This menu line, which is customizable, initially contains graphical buttons for--

* closing Windows,

* tagging text sections (see below for explanation),

* printing,

* saving as,

* generating queries,

* moving back and forth within

* switching between documents and contents (see below),

* accessing the Navigator (the file that keeps a complete log of all of your research activities),

* accessing the time log (used of billing purposes), and

* returning to the main menu screen.

Several dozen other options are available.

The Help System

A very detailed help system is provided. It is supposed to contain a tutorial; however, I could not find it. It appeared to be nothing more than selected sections of the Help System, rather than a computer-based training tool. Outside of definitions and a short-cut key guide, I did not find the Help System very helpful. It needs work. The Quick Reference Card was more useful.

RIA should also provide a zoom control so that screen contents can be reduced or enlarged. I found that the forms were too wide for the screen.

The Main Menu

The EPA contains the following interrelated modules, which are selectable in the main menu (Note: the CD-ROM must be installed for the program to work.):

* Tools, techniques, rates, tables,

* Analysis

* Code, regulations, tax treaties

* Will/trust forms and clauses

* Estate Planner's Alert newsletter

* Internal Revenue Code

* Regulations

The EPA service also includes the RIA electronic Federal and state forms applicable to estate work. The forms are run from a separate Windows-based program contained on the CD-ROM. The forms can be printed as blanks or filled in, saved, and printed. The forms module does not prepare the returns, it can only be used in a fill-in-the-blanks mode.

Two other selections also appear: Search all Infobases and Indexes.

Once the main menu is on screen, the next step is to select one of the categories listed above, by clicking on it (there is a menu option that allows you to use one click instead of two). Main menu selections can contain additional submenu items. For example, tools, techniques, rates, and tables contain the following submenus:

* Filled in IRS forms/line by line

* Client letters

* IRS sample correspondence

* Checklists

* Instructions for Form 706

* IRS publication 904

* Estate Tax Examiners Handbook

* Rates and tables

Accessing the Data

The best way to grasp a selection's organization is to view its table of contents (called the "contents" window), which provides a bird's eye view of all available information. The table can be expanded or collapsed by clicking on the plus (+) or minus (­) signs that appear to the left of an entry. A minus sign indicates that all levels are displayed.

Every contents window has a corresponding document window (known as the "full text"). Switching between contents and document windows (called toggling) lets you place one window in front (or back) of the other. To switch between windows, press CTRL + T. Alternately, you can toggle between the contents window and the full text by simply clicking on the document or contents buttons on the tool belt.

Search the Infobase

When you decide to conduct a search, you have two choices. You can--

* initiate a word search with the
standard query screen, or

* search for specific information using a query template.

The query screen is used to conduct a basic keyword search. Here's how:

1. Select a research category from the main menu.

2. If needed, select an Infobase from the submenu.

3. Select search/query. The query screen appears.

4. Type one or more keywords that describe the research issue in the "query for" field located at the bottom of the window. Various Boolean operators (e.g., &, and * for wildcards) are available for controlling the search.

5. Select OK to view the search results.

A query template is a customized query screen used to search an Infobase in a predefined way or for a specific type of information. For example, using query templates you can go to a specific Code section or an analysis paragraph. The type and number of query templates depends upon the Infobase being searched. Unlike query screens, query templates are not static, but change from Infobase to Infobase. To see what query templates are available for a specific Infobase select the search menu from the Windows menu bar. Any available query templates will appear at the bottom of the menu. To search using the query template, simple select it. Every template features on-screen instructions to guide you through filling in the appropriate fields.

As noted above, search results can be viewed in two windows--contents and document. The contents window displays a table of contents while the document window displays the full text with the search criteria highlighted. You can flip back and forth between the two views.

Many of the document screens contain additional link buttons that take you directly to such things as explanations, or history information on the limited and full views.

Limited and Full Reviews

By default, all RIA CD-ROM research systems display search results in a limited view. This means you only see records matching the search query. The benefit of a limited view is to help you focus on only those records of interest. You can expand your view to include all records and headings. This is called a full view.

Saving the Results of a Search

The results of a search can be saved to a file, printed out, or copied to the Windows clipboard for use in another program. I used the cut/paste routine to transfer the data to Microsoft Word. This can be extremely useful when using the data to prepare a letter or a brief.

In order to limit the amount of text which is to be printed or saved, it is necessary to tell the program exactly what to print or save. This can be done by "blocking" or "tagging" the desired text.

Blocking marks text by highlighting actual characters. Blocking is achieved
by clicking the mouse and dragging
over the text. Blocked text must be

Tagging is another way to mark records for printing and saving. Once records are tagged, the tags remain intact until they are cleared or the Infobase is exited. To tag a record--

1. click anywhere withing the record you want to tag.

2. press the tag button in the toolbar menu.

A red vertical line appears on screen running down the left margin of the entire record. A red triangle denotes the start of a tagged record. Unlike blocks of text, tagged records do not have to be continuous. Tagged data can be selected and de-selected.

Tax Forms Module

The separate tax forms module contained only those Federal and state returns applicable to estate and trust work. This module provided a limited zoom feature which reduced the form so that horizontal scrolling was unnecessary. As indicated previously, this module only contained the forms and their instructions. It did not have the ability to generate a finished, fully calculated return. You can, however, treat the form as a typewriter form and fill it out, save it, and print it.

Estate Planning System

The new EPS consists of a series of modules, the first of which contains--

* in-depth subject-organized analysis of Federal gift, estate, and generation-skipping tax rules, and Federal trust and estate income tax law with full citation to controlling authorities;

* complete IRC and Treasury regulations;

* every U.S. gift tax treaty with complete analyses;

* summaries of every state's (including DC and Puerto Rico's) inheritance, estate, and gift tax laws;

* state material in chart form;

* annotations and explanations of IRC and rulings;

* revenue rulings;

* private letter rulings;

* general counsel memoranda;

* cases, selected by relevant IRC section; and

* Uniform Probate Code.

The EPS also contains Warren, Gorham & Lamont's Journal of Taxation and RIA's Estate Planner's Alert newsletter.

Additional modules contain Warren Gorham & Lamont treatises including the following:

* Estate Planning Law & Taxation--financial professional's edition

* Federal Income Taxation of Estates and Trusts

* Tax Planning for Family Wealth

* Tax Planning with Life Insurance

* Final regulations on structuring estate freezes under Chapter 14

* Structuring Buy-Sell Agreements

* Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

The EPS is available in network and non-network versions, as well as in DOS and Windows. The Warren, Gorham & Lamont treatises are only available in Windows.

The system is updated monthly by a CD-ROM disc. Subscribers also receive the Estate Planner's Alert newsletter
in print.

Pricing is currently being set. It is estimated that the first module will be approximately $900 and additional modules will be under $250.

Minimum Windows Requirements

* IBM or 100% IBM compatible computer, 386DX/25 MHz or better

* DOS 3.3 or higher (DOS 5.0 recommended)

* VGA or greater video


* ISO 9660 CD-ROM reader, double-spin (2x) or better

* Non-network version requires 8MB free hard disk space.

* Network version also requires 8MB free disk space on server and 1MB hard disk space on each workstation. *

Paul D. Warner, PhD, CPA, is head of the accounting department at Hofstra University and technology editor of The CPA Journal.

Paul D. Warner, PhD, CPA
Hofstra University

L. Murphy Smith, DBA, CPA
Texas A&M University

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