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White multi-generational familyEstate planners help people figure out how to pass assets to their heirs without losing too much to taxes, while also planning charitable bequests and addressing other matters relating to estates. It’s a complex task, involving a labyrinth of Internal Revenue Service regulations, court rulings and federal and state laws. Financial professionals who work with estates are often accountants, attorneys and financial planners, and many add specialized credentials as estate planners. One of these is the Certified Specialist in Estate Planning (CSEP) designation.  

The CSEP is overseen by the National Institute for Excellence in Professional Education. The organization recently stopped certifying new CSEPs. The designation has been around since 1999, however, so some advisors may still display the credentials. Many of those who earn the CSEP are already in possession of advanced financial professional credentials, such as Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner.

CSEP Certificate Requirements

To apply for a CSEP, applicants first had to fulfill the prerequisite requirement. This could be met with a combination of education, work experience and prior licenses and professional designations.

After meeting the prerequisites, applicants had to complete six core educational courses and two electives on various aspects of retirement planning. The courses were self-paced so the time required to complete them varied according to the individual student’s motivation and abilities.

After finishing the coursework, CSEP applicants had to pass a test. The test is conducted online and applicants had a limited amount of time to answer the questions.

After receiving a CSEP, designees had to keep it active. This required completing 16 hours of courses in estate planning at least every two years.

CSEP Certificate Holder Jobs

Estate planning documentsCSEP holders are usually already working in the field. They may be bank trust officers, wealth managers or investment officers as well as accountants, lawyers and financial planners. Getting a CSEP doesn’t add any particular powers or privileges to an advisor’s tool chest. It is an indication that a financial professional has an interest in working as an estate planner and has completed additional specialist education and passed a test on his or her knowledge of the field.

It can suggest to potential clients that that they are working with a qualified expert and help estate planners market themselves to prospects.

Comparable Certifications

The estate planning field is rife with specialist certifications. Some of those that compare to the CSEP include:

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) is granted by the Global Academy of Finance and Management. To apply, CTEPs need a college degree in a financial field as well as a professional license of some kind and three years of experience. There aren’t any other requirements. The fee for a CTEP certificate is $320.

Certified Estate Planner (CEP) is offered by the National Institute of Certified Estate Planners. Earning one of these requires paying $1,695, completing an estate planning educational curriculum and passing a qualifying exam.

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) certificate holders are overseen by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. Qualifying requires an existing professional financial license such as Certified Public Accountant or Certified Financial Planner, plus five years of experience in estate planning or a related field and three letters of recommendations from clients.  Applicants also must have competed 30 hours of continuing education during the previous two years and pay a $1,850 fee.

Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) is awarded by the American Bankers Association. CTFA holders have to demonstrate a combination of education and professional experience that varies according to the number of years they have been active in the industry. They also have to pass a test and agree to follow a code of ethics. The annual fee for the CFTA is $275.

Bottom Line

Black multi-generational familyEstate planners help people devise and implement strategies for passing on wealth to their heirs in a tax-efficient manner. They also assist in making charitable bequests. Specialized certificates like the CSEP can indicate to people in need of estate planning services that they are working with someone with the training and experience to advise them expertly on this challenging topic. It’s important to be sure whomever you choose to work with is staying current with his or her certification requirements.

Estate Planning Tips

  • If you are thinking about how to plan your own estate, consider working with an experienced financial advisor to help you make the most advantageous choices. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Make use of a free, easy-to-use retirement calculator to gauge what your Social Security benefit plus your pension or similar plan will give you on a post-tax basis.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/skynesher, ©iStock.com/courtneyk, ©iStock.com/kupicoo

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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