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How to Become a Estate Planning Attorney

If you are an attorney looking to expand your career and put your excellent problem-solving and negotiation skills to work, consider becoming an estate planning attorney.

Estate attorneys help their clients plan for how their assets will be distributed after they die. They work to minimize the amount of taxes that will need to be paid, help people’s loved ones avoid probate court, and execute funeral arrangements according to their clients’ wishes. As an estate planning attorney, you would help and advise clients in drafting wills, trusts, and power of attorney documents to ensure their estates will be dispensed as they intended. 

Estate planning attorneys should have exceptional verbal and written communication skills, they should be critical thinkers, and they must have exceptional attention to detail. Good people skills are a must as you will advise and guide clients on a number of options available to them, such as charitable contributions, retirement plans, and life insurance policies. You would work closely with financial managers and insurance professionals and may litigate probate court cases. 

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is searching for an experienced estate planning attorney. We are in need of an exceptionally analytical candidate with great negotiation and organization skills who is able to work full-time. An estate planning attorney drafts documents like wills, trusts, and powers of attorneys. This position comes with a lot of responsibility and aims to reduce questions about how an estate should be handled. If you have plenty of experience working in estate planning, are a licensed attorney, and have exceptional written communication skills, please apply!

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Discuss plans with clients for distributing clients’ assets
  • Draft and file wills, trusts and powers of attorney
  • Advise clients regarding retirement plans, charitable giving, and insurance options
  • Litigate cases that go to probate court

Education and experience

This position requires a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where the candidate will work. A background in finance, accounting, or tax law is preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Expertise in written and verbal communication
  • Knowledge of federal and state laws and regulations regarding taxes, wills, trusts, and estates
  • Research skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Negotiation skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong written and oral communication skills
  • Responsive customer service
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Organizational skills

Typical work environment

Many estate planning attorneys may work independently or as part of a private practice, or they may be employed with a law firm that has a department that specializes in planning estates. They may spend a lot of time in the office working and meeting with clients, or they may travel to meet clients and go to court proceedings. 

Typical hours

The work hours in an office setting for an estate planning attorney are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many attorneys work more than 40 hours a week, especially when nearing deadlines or preparing for court proceedings.

Available certifications

Though attorneys don’t need any additional certifications other than their J.D. from an accredited university, having additional certifications can help. Check out the following: 

  • The CEP Certification. This certification offered by NICEP is one of the nation’s highest echelon educational/support organizations in the area of estate planning. 
  • The CTEP (the Chartered Trust and Estate Planner). This certification is offered by the Global Academy of Finance and Management. Candidates need to have met annual continuing education requirements, which may vary. 
  • TheAEP (Accredited Estate Planner). This certification is awarded by the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. You’ll need to take two graduate-level courses to qualify.

Career path

Estate planning attorneys are required to have a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where they will work. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to pursue a J.D. degree. In college, candidates should take courses in subjects like finance, accounting, taxation, and the like.

Most attorneys start in law firms as associates, then progress on either a partner or non-partner track, leading to positions as partners, senior attorneys, or of counsel.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1011

2020 Employment804,200
Projected Employment in 2030875,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift71,500 increase

There are some significant trends concerning estate planning in the coming years. First, people increasingly put off using estate planning attorneys during uncertain economic times. Second, there has been a rise in the use of legal technology companies and prepaid legal services for estate planning. Rather than using an attorney to draw up wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, people are turning to companies that offer pre-drafted documents that only require them to fill in their specific details as a way of saving money on estate planning. However, the rapidly increasing size of the retirement-age population in the U.S. suggests there will still be a sustained need for estate planning attorneys.