The Accredited Estate Planner designation is a professional credential for individuals who specialize in estate planning services. You might work with someone who holds an AEP® designation if you need help creating or fine-tuning an estate plan or a succession plan for your business. This guide offers an overview of what an accredited estate planner is, who they serve and what services they provide.
What Is the Accredited Estate Planner Designation?
Someone who holds an accredited estate planner designation is recognized to have the expertise and knowledge required to advise clients on estate planning. Being an AEP is a way for estate planning specialists to set themselves apart from other financial professionals who offer estate planning services.
This professional designation is administered by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). To earn this designation, candidates must:
- Have at least five years of experience actively working in one of these fields: accounting, insurance, financial planning, law, philanthropy and/or trust services.
- Devote at least one-third of one’s professional time to estate planning services.
- Possess one or more of these professional credentials: JD (active law license required if this is the only credential with which you are applying), CPA, CLU, CFP, ChFC, CPWA, CFA, CAP, CSPG, CTFA, MSFS, and MST.
- Provide at least three professional references from individuals they’ve worked with in an estate planning capacity.
- Be a member of an affiliated local estate planning council in their area.
Additionally, applicants must complete at least two graduate courses through The American College of Financial Services if they have less than 15 years of professional estate planning experience. Specifically, that includes one advanced course in estate planning and one elective course that can cover family wealth planning, business estate planning, charitable strategies, executive compensation or business valuation analysis.
The self-study, online courses cost a flat $1,850 each. Alternately, applicants can substitute coursework completed through an accredited graduate program as part of a master’s or doctoral degree.
Candidates should spend 24 months prior to applying for the designation completing at least 30 hours of continuing education. At least 15 of those hours must focus on estate planning. After completing the designation, the same education requirement applies. Active AEPs must recertify with the NAEPC each year. All applicants must also agree to the NAEPC Code of Ethics, which covers conduct standards for accredited estate planners.
There’s no other coursework or standard exam that needs to be completed, beyond the final exams required for the two required courses. Estate planners who would like to be designated just need to fill out the appropriate application and pay the application fees. There’s one form for estate planners with less than 15 years of professional experience and another for those with 15 years or more of experience.
As of 2019, the fees are as follows:
- $350 application fee
- $175 yearly dues
- $80 at-large membership dues for estate planners don’t belong to an accredited local estate planning council
Following an application’s approval, designees keeping paying the $175 membership dues and the $80 at-large due fee each year.
AEP vs. Other Professional Designations
What sets accredited estate planners apart from other financial professionals is their focus on estate planning. At least one-third of their professional services must involve estate planning. That can include things like administering trusts on behalf of clients, helping with charitable giving plans, drafting wills or trust documents, preparing fiduciary income tax returns, succession planning or managing life settlements from life insurance policies.
A certified financial planner, on the other hand, might spend 10% of their time advising clients on estate planning and focus more on retirement or investing strategies. Since an AEP must also have another professional credential, they can offer services beyond estate planning. For example, if an accredited estate planner is also an accountant, they might counsel business owners on how to create an exit plan once they’re ready to retire.
Why Work With an Accredited Estate Planner
Clients who have specialized estate planning needs or larger estates might consider an AEP. This designation signifies that a professional has extraordinary skills and expertise in estate planning and can offer higher standard of service. As such, other professional certifications generally outnumber accredited estate planners.
If you need to find an accredited estate planner, the easiest way is to use the NAEPC’s online search tool. This tool lets you search for designated planners in your area, using your zip code or state as a filter. The search results will also show you the other designations an accredited estate planner holds. As with any other financial professional, take time to vet them carefully before committing to working with an AEP. You may want to ask what services they offer, how they communicate, and what they charge.
The Bottom Line
Accredited estate planners can help meet a variety of estate planning needs, both for individuals, businesses and nonprofits. Depending on the other professional designations they hold, they may also help with other financial planning services. For example, they could handle accounting, business planning, or insurance planning. Your need for an accredited estate planner may depend on the size of your estate. Also, your wealth management needs may determine your need for an AEP.
Estate Planning Tips
- Consider talking to a financial advisor about the different financial tools you might need to include in your estate plan. For example, a will might be sufficient if you don’t have a lot of assets. But you might consider a revocable trust if you want to pass on wealth to your children. Or if you’re buying life insurance, you might find that a permanent policy is better than term coverage. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Are you looking for an advisor who specializes in estate planning? Do you need one familiar with estate planning laws in your state? SmartAsset’s estate planning guide can help you take your first steps.
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