updated 4/1/2005 6:53:14 PM ET 2005-04-01T23:53:14

Sales of computer software to create living wills are surging amid the high-profile debate over Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged Florida woman who died Thursday.

"We've never seen sales like this," said Clark Miller, a spokesman for Nolo.com Inc., the creator of Quicken WillMaker Plus 2005.  "The living will has simply become a part of American consciousness in a way it hadn't been before."

WillMaker Plus sales rose 63 percent in the five days after March 18, when Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, compared to the prior five days.  At Kansas City-based H&R Block Inc., spokesman Tom Linafelt said sales of the company's WILLPower program jumped 95 percent last week.  Other software makers — including Carson, Calif.-based Cosmi Corp. and Socrates Media LLC — also reported spikes in sales.

"What happens in a case like this, it becomes a bellwether for folks to become aware about an issue that normally they wouldn't," said Michael Kahn, a spokesman for Chicago-based Socrates.

Software industry analyst Chris Swenson of research firm NPD Group, said will-writing software and other legal programs have seen a 63 percent increase in sales over the past quarter, compared with the previous three months.

He said he doesn't believe the spike was a result of the Schiavo case, but rather of the release cycle of titles in the legal software category.

Schiavo was severely brain-damaged and spent 15 years connected to a feeding tube.  Her parents and her husband battled over whether to let her die, as Schiavo had no living will or other written instructions on her medical care.  The legal fight over her case stretched all the way to the White House and Congress.  Had Schiavo completed a living will, it would have clearly stated how far she wanted medical care to go.

Living wills can be obtained cheaply or free from numerous sources and generally don't require an attorney.

Debra Speyer, a Philadelphia attorney who does estate planning, said software is fine, but she's receiving nearly 10 times as many calls from people who feel they need an adviser to more fully explain the document.

"My telephone's been ringing off the hook," Speyer said.  "It's now in the news, so a lot of people don't want it to happen to them."

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