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What Makes a Professional Estate Planner a Professional?

Estate planning requires interdisciplinary knowledge of law, tax and accounting issues. Yet the answer to the question What makes a professional estate planner a professional? is that they get paid. This answer is not only snarky, but it also exposes a rather disturbing issue: the lack of regulation. In most places, anyone can hang a sign outside their door that says they’re an estate planner, because no official license is required. There are, however, several certifications and accreditations that can help provide some legitimacy.

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Accredited Estate Planner

The National Association of Estate Planners and Councils awards this designation to licensed attorneys, certified public accountants, chartered life underwriters and certain other chartered or certified financial advisors. Other requirements include:

  • Must have a minimum of five years of experience in estate planning.
  • Must have completed two graduate level courses through the American College of Financial Services.
  • Must have completed a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education every 24 months, of which at least 15 hours must be in estate planning.

Who Needs Estate Planning?

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner

This designation is granted by the American Academy of Financial Management. This appellation requires a bachelor’s or graduate degree in finance, tax, accounting, financial services or law, or a CPA, MBA, MS, Ph.D. or JD from an accredited school or organization. Other requirements include:

  • Completion of at least five approved and related courses.
  • Completion of a certification training course.
  • Annual continuing education.

Certified Trust and Financial Advisor

The American Bankers Association, along with the Institute of Certified Bankers, awards CTFA designations to individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Have a minimum of three years of experience in wealth management.
  • Have completed at least one approved wealth management training program.
  • Possess a letter of recommendation.
  • Have signed an ethics statement.
  • Have completed 45 hours of continuing education every three years.

Beyond Certification

Since certification is voluntary and not all qualified estate planners seek certification, you should look for someone who has a background in an estate planning field. That means a lawyer, CPA or trust officer.

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The complex tangle of federal and state laws and tax regulations requires a great deal of expertise. Regardless of whether you choose a certified or accredited planner or other professional for the necessary task of planning your estate, it is always best to ask for references and have an honest discussion about their experience.

Photo credit: flickr

Frank Addessi Born and raised in the center of the known universe, Brooklyn NY, and currently hiding out in the bucolic hills of northeast Pennsylvania writing about personal finance. His expertise includes personal loans, credit cards and retirement. It's not easy living the American Dream but someone has to do it!
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