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.
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.
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.
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.
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.