Build Trust, Literally! How to Become a Certified Estate Planner

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Oct 15, 2018

Oct 15, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

If you're looking for work, have you considered becoming a certified estate planner?

More than half of all Americans don't yet have estate planning completed. When you become an estate planner, you'll be helping these people figure out their future and take care of their families.

Estate planning is a lucrative career that's always in demand. But even more importantly, it can be very rewarding, since you'll be helping people with tasks that could be very stressful for them to do alone.

Is becoming a certified estate planner right for you? In this guide, we'll show you what it takes to start a rewarding career as an estate planner. Keep reading before you decide on your next steps!

What is a Certified Estate Planner?

As an estate planner, your job is to advise people on how to handle their finances and personal assets so that things are taken care of after their death. You might help them with life insurance, or help them set up a will or a trust.

As a personal financial expert, you'll be providing invaluable advice about a unique financial situation: preparing for death. Estate planning isn't just for elderly people - any adult with a family they want to ensure will be taken care of might hire a certified estate planner.

People need to figure out what to do with their savings, investments, and property, and how those assets can end up in the right hands when they're gone. That's where you can help. You'll figure out how their assets will be kept safe and transferred to the right people when the time comes.

You'll need to stay on top of the latest tax laws and know how things like wills, trusts, and insurance work.

You might work on your own, or as part of a financial practice. Either way, you'll need to right education and skills before you can get started: let's take a look at what those are.

Skill Requirements

Before you run out and get an education in estate planning, it's a good idea to see if you have the kind of skills that will make you a good fit.

Being a great communicator is helpful. You'll need to be comfortable discussing sensitive information with your clients, related to their final wishes. This involves being sensitive, while still getting the information you need.

You'll also need to be able to talk to the surviving family members after your client's death. This also involves being sensitive, yet professional.

Great organizational skills are helpful, too. You'll need to gather information, know what you need at what time, and keep everything organized as you go. Finally, you'll always need to be educating yourself on the latest laws and changes in the industry.

Does that sound like you? Then let's take a look at the kind of education that you'll need to become an estate planner.

Education Requirements

You can become a certified estate planner with a bachelor's degree. However, many clients and companies prefer to hire people with graduate-level degrees instead.

Your degrees should be in finance or a related field. If you can, look for a university that offers financial degrees with a focus in estate planning or financial planning. You'll want an education that involves some combination of business and finance. You might also have a focus on law: for example, you might become a trust attorney.

Certification Requirements

In addition to your education, you'll need the right certifications to become a certified estate planner.

Estate planning involves understanding both federal and state laws, and knowing all of the different nuances that can affect how the IRS treats different types of income and assets. These laws are always changing, and new rulings on cases can also show changes in the political or judicial climate that will affect how you should handle things for your clients.

To prove your knowledge, there are a number of specific certifications that you can get. You can become a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor through the American Bankers Association. The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils offers an Accredited Estate Planner certification. Or, there's the Chartered Trust and Estate Planner certification from the Global Academy of Finance & Management.

All of these certifications have slightly different requirements, and you'll want at least one of them to be professionally competitive in the field. The more certifications you get, the stronger you are as a candidate to handle people's finances.

Who Should Become an Estate Planner?

Is becoming an estate planner the best fit for you? Let's take a closer look at the kind of person who thrives in this field.

You Like Working With Finances and Taxes

For some people, their eyes start to glaze over as soon as the conversation about tax and finances begins. But if you want to be an estate planner, you need to be passionate about these subjects. Your passion will keep you knowledgeable about relevant industry changes.

You Work Well With People

Estate planning is all about helping people. If you love working closely with clients, this might be a good career for you.

You'll need to be sensitive when talking about end-of-life issues. But you also need to be direct when things need to be addressed. This takes a delicate balance of professionalism and personability.

You're Focused on the Future

If you're a long-term planner, you might make a great estate planner. This field is all about thinking long-term to help your client make the best choices.

When one client passes away, their surviving family member could hire you. This might mean working through multiple generations to help grow and preserve assets. Not many jobs involve as much long-term planning as that!

Ready for the Next Steps?

If you still feel that becoming a certified estate planner is right for you, it's time to take the next steps. Whether that means signing up for college or getting a new certification, you now know what you need to succeed.

Becoming a CPA might be part of your journey to become an estate planner. Find out how to prepare for your CPA exam here.