Facing end-of-life decisions and trying to preserve your family’s wealth is difficult. As morbid as it may be to face one’s own mortality, planning estate matters ensures that your family members can maintain their lifestyle.
What Is an Estate Planner?
Estate planners work with clients, providing accounting, financial, and legal advice to help them prepare for end-of-life and succession issues. The main objective of estate planning is to safeguard clients’ assets as they pass from their ownership to their desired inheritors. Once a client passes away, an estate plan would dictate the dispersal of assets per the deceased’s directions. Without an estate plan, these decisions may be left to the next of kin or the state.
Duties of estate planners include:
- Creating a last will and testament
- Setting up trust accounts
- Naming an executor and power of attorneys
- Identifying all beneficiaries
- Naming a guardian for minor children
- Paying all debts and minimizing all taxes and legal fees
- Crafting instructions for passing your values
- Establishing preferences for funeral arrangements
- Finalizing instructions for care if you become ill and are unable to make decisions
- Obtaining life insurance, disability income insurance, and long-term care insurance
A good estate plan should be updated regularly as clients’ financial situations, personal motivations, and federal and state laws all evolve. Because of this, an estate plan should not happen as part of end-of-life care, but well before in order to remain prepared.
As with any profession, there are characteristics and skills that can help you achieve these goals as you work with your clients in an estate planner role.
Key Traits of an Estate Planner
An estate planning career can be right for you if you possess the following traits:
1) You Think Long-Term
Being an estate planner means thinking in the long term. As an estate planner, you can work with a family through generations. When one client passes away, it’s common for an estate planner to be enlisted by any number of the surviving family members. This can mean decades of service.
During this time, your client will rely on your work to help safeguard his or her assets. You will likely be entrusted to craft the plan that manages taxes, aligns with local and federal laws, and passes the most wealth to the beneficiaries upon death. You may also be placed in charge of the creation of any linked trust funds to certain assets.
Many people seek to hire estate planners toward the end of their lives, so you will also need to support your clients during a particularly trying time, helping them understand how their assets can be passed to family, friends, and the community after they’re gone.
2) You Enjoy Helping People
Assisting clients throughout their lives requires a delicate mix of empathy and directness. Being an estate planner in this regard is not an easy task. You must help your client anticipate his or her end of life and what will happen postmortem, while at the same time not dwelling on morbid thoughts or emotions. Some clients may become bitter or distraught when contemplating death and it could fall to you to help them through it.
You will, in essence, be at the service of your client and his or her family. In the event of death, you may be expected to have numerous conversations and dealings with surviving family members about the estate plan. In order to excel as an estate planner, you may need to walk a fine line of being a shoulder to lean on and the individual counted on to communicate estate planning matters in a timely and professional manner. Having a natural desire to help others can serve you well as you work to ease a family’s difficult time.
3) You Like Dealing with Financial, Trust, and Taxation Issues
Clients trust their estate planners when it comes to money—and not just managing funds in a single account. There is the value of property, any adjoining trust funds, investments, insurance, and other savings and checking accounts that may come into play. Therefore, estate planners benefit from being mathematically inclined.
The tax code is also changing frequently. According to Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, the U.S. tax code changed thousands of times in the 10 years between 2001 and 2012. Expect that it has been altered further since then. Depending on your client’s financial income bracket, which may evolve toward end-of-life, you as an estate planner will have to keep your client’s assets in full legal compliance with any local, federal, or international tax laws.
How to Become an Estate Planner
Specializing in finance or a related major for a bachelor’s degree can be a strong starting point in your career as an estate planner. Only slightly more than half of all personal financial advisors—a categorization that includes estate planners—have a bachelor’s degree, however, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported by O*Net Online. The remaining group has an advanced degree or other professional certification.
Advanced degrees and designations may be beneficial to set you apart from the competition. Being an estate planner often means understanding the tax code and all aspects of its legal implementation. Gaining this certification from organizations like the National Institute of Certified Estate Planners, Inc. can be a strong differentiator. Being a member of these professional groups can validate your skills, making you more attractive in the eyes of a potential client.
How Much Does an Estate Planner Make?
In addition to the emotional reward of helping clients with end-of-life planning, estate planners enjoy the benefits of a stable income. According to a limited PayScale survey of estate planners, the median salary for estate planning is $96,984. The BLS reported that all personal financial advisors earned a median annual wage of $90,640. According to data from the BLS, the financial advising profession is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026—higher than the national average.
Being an estate planner can be both rewarding and lucrative. To differentiate yourself among your peers and thrive in the field of estate planning, consider earning an online or an on campus Master’s in Taxation at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University.