Estate Planner Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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An estate planner's mean annual salary is around $108,090. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an estate planner is right for you.
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An Estate Planning Career: The Pros and Cons

Estate planners work with the tangible assets people leave behind upon death, helping to ensure these assets are dispersed according to the wishes of the deceased and that debts are paid. See the pros and cons of this interesting career to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of being an Estate Planner
High salary (about $108,090 mean annual wage in 2014)*
Rapid job growth (expect about 30% from 2014-2024)*
Can be self-employed or work for a firm*
Not routine work; each case is different*

Cons of being an Estate Planner
Formal education required*
May have to obtain certification or licensure in some states*
May need to meet with clients on evenings and weekends*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Estate planners are a type of personal financial planner and are responsible for ensuring that a person's assets are distributed and debts settled after death. Also called financial planners, estate planners can be involved in representing a client in other matters of personal finance as well, such as investments or insurance coverage. As an estate planner handling a client's affairs, you'd begin by discussing the client's end-of-life needs and the assets and debts that will make up the estate to be managed. You'd be familiar with federal and local laws, and you'd advise the client on how best to administer their wealth, as well as discussing other issues such as trust funds, planning for incapacity and advanced medical directives.

When a client dies, the estate planner reviews the documents associated with the client's last will and testament, insurance policies, unpaid bills and any trust funds. You'd then carry out the client's final wishes within the scope of the law, distributing property, paying debts (including taxes) and beginning the process of administering any trust monies.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), estate planners are expected to be in high demand as large numbers of aging baby boomers find themselves having to make end-of-life arrangements (www.bls.gov). This situation, coupled with a decrease in pensions and retirement funds once offered by employers, means that the need for estate planning services could increase dramatically. It is estimated that the field of financial planning (of which estate planning is a part) will grow 30% -- much faster than average -- during the 2014-2024 decade.

The BLS also reports that the mean annual wage for personal financial advisors, the closest occupation listed in the BLS database, in 2014 was about $108,090. PayScale.com notes that 2016 U.S. national averages show estate planners in the 10% to 90% range of earners make anywhere from $35,000 to $166,000 each year, with a median wage of $87,500. An estate planner's salary tends to reflect education level and years of experience.

Education and Training Requirements

Estate planners can come from a variety of educational backgrounds, but you can find training specific to estate planning in bachelor's degree programs in financial planning or in graduate level programs at law schools. Whether or not additional training to obtain certification is necessary depends on state and local laws. Some credentialing entities ask that applicants have a 4-year degree at minimum. For instance, among the American Academy of Financial Management's requirements for the designation of Chartered Trust and Estate Planner is a graduate or undergraduate degree in financial services, tax, accounting or law. The National Institute of Certified Estate Planners requires that you be licensed or certified in the financial, legal or tax professions before being accepted into its certification program.

Top Skills

To be successful as an estate planner and provide your clients with sound advice, you must be a sharp, analytical thinker and good listener. You need to be knowledgeable about applicable inheritance, tax, and debt law in addition to understanding how various types of insurance and trust funds operate. It is the estate planner's job to encourage open discussion of their client's last wishes, so being empathetic and capable of establishing trust with others is crucial. When the work shifts to the actual administration of the estate, a planner must call on those same interpersonal skills when working with surviving family, friends and business associates in a sensitive but businesslike manner.

Jobs from Real Employers

Hiring trends in this field suggest that employers want experienced candidates who have solid financial planning skills and a background in taxes and law. Here is a snapshot of employer postings for estate planners in May 2012:

  • An Illinois company sought a full-time estate planner with tax and legal experience. Duties included presenting clients with estate planning options, securing new business and helping prepare and review business documents.
  • An Ohio firm wanted a Certified Public Accountant/Estate Planner with at least a 4-year degree, as well as Series 7 and 66 licensing. Duties included working with pre- and post-retirement clients, networking and developing business relationships.
  • A wealth management firm in Philadelphia, PA advertised for an estate and trust attorney to work with a multifamily office team. In addition to knowledge of federal tax laws, essential qualities included attention to detail, intellectual curiosity and superior communication skills.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Agencies that certify estate planners recommend state or national certification as a good way to stand out from non-certified peers. Certification helps clients see you as a professional and may give an edge in gaining employment. Teaching and lecturing to groups on estate planning is another way to be noticed in the community, as is joining a professional organization. National and state peer groups can provide networking opportunities and promotion of members to employers and clients.

Alternative Fields

Financial Analyst

If you like helping people with finances but would like to focus on less stressful issues, you could consider being a financial analyst. These professionals help individuals and businesses make financial investment and management decisions. A financial analyst typically has a 4-year degree, though a graduate degree is needed for more advanced positions. The BLS reports that financial analysts earned a mean annual wage of about $88,000 in 2011, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 23% from 2010-2020, which is faster than the national average.

Accountant

If you love working with numbers, being an accountant could be right for you. Accountants are responsible for organizing, maintaining and reviewing financial records and ensuring that payments are made on time. They can also act as auditors, reviewing financial operations and making recommendations to management. According to the BLS, accountants took home a mean annual wage of about $70,000 in 2011, and the profession is expected to grow by 16% through the 2010-2020 decade. A 4-year degree is generally required, and most accountants are certified in a specialty.

Paralegal

If you enjoy the administrative aspects of the estate planning area and are also drawn to law, being a paralegal is an option. Paralegals can work for law firms involved in estate planning, wills and trusts, with duties that include drafting legal documents, assisting with research and maintaining files. Per the BLS, paralegals earned a mean wage of around $50,000 in 2011 and, usually, a 2-year degree is sufficient for employment. This field is expected to grow by 18% from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Finance - Financial Planning
      • MS in Finance - Financial Analysis
      • MS in Finance
      • MBA: Finance
      • Master - Accounting
      • Master : Business Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BSBA in Financial Analysis
      • BS in Finance - Investments
      • Accelerated MS in Finance Option
      • BS in Finance - Wealth Management
      • BS in Finance
      • BS in Finance - General Finance
    Associate's
      • Associate: Accounting
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
    Certificate
      • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Louisiana State University Shreveport

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization
      • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Wealth Management/Financial Planning
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance and Investing
      • Master of Arts in Law - Business
      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Business Administration
      • Master of Business Administration - General Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Science in Business
      • Bachelor of Science in Business - Accounting
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Business
      • Bachelor of Arts in English - Government
      • Bachelor of Arts in Government
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance
      • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. South College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Business Administration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Accounting
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
  • Campus Locations:
    7. American National University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration
    Associate's
      • Business Administration Management - Associate
    Certificate
      • Accounting - Diploma
      • Business Administration - Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Notre Dame de Namur University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Masters in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Bookkeeping
  • Campus and Online Programs
    10. South University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Accounting (BS to MS) (MS)
      • Accounting (MS)
      • Business Administration (DBA)
      • Business Administration (MBA)

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Finance - Financial Planning
  • BSBA in Financial Analysis
  • Associate: Accounting
  • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Government Analytics

What is your highest level of education?

Louisiana State University Shreveport

  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Concentration
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance Specialization
  • Master of Business Administration with a General Business Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Wealth Management/Financial Planning
  • Master of Business Administration - Finance and Investing
  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Science in Business

What is your highest level of education completed?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

What is your highest level of education completed?

South College

  • Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Business Administration
  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

American National University

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Business Administration Management - Associate
  • Accounting - Diploma

What is your education level?

Notre Dame de Namur University

  • Masters in Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?