What Is a Certified Estate Planner, Exactly?

Whether you are looking to build your legal knowledge base or create an estate plan that best suits your needs and circumstances, it is essential to know what certified estate planner types and organizations exist and are available to you and what each entity entails requires.

Certified estate planner roles exist to set an industry standard for the level of knowledge and experience needed to provide professional advice on the topic. This is because estate planning combines tax and family law with personal finance, retirement planning, and more.

Understanding Estate Planning

Estate planning is organizing the tasks and documents needed to facilitate the distribution of an estate after a person’s death and carry out various end-of-life tasks per their wishes. Estate plans are personalized to minimize tax liability and legal costs, speed up the distribution of assets, and more. Estate planning tasks can include:

      • Naming a legal guardian for minor dependents
      • Managing and evaluating assets
      • Naming a representative for the will (an executor)
      • Considering assets and accounts with designated beneficiaries (life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pension funds, etc.)
      • Creating and managing trusts for various purposes (asset protection, charitable contributions, reducing the taxable estate)
      • Setting up various documents for end-of-life care and essential decision making (a living will, power of attorney documents, etc.)

An estate plan will have to help reconcile a client’s wants and needs with local, state, and federal requirements while navigating a complex hedge maze of legal texts to avoid future litigation, unwanted fines, and high costs.

This is further complicated by the logistical challenges of estate planning, including locating and evaluating assets all over the country, managing the maintenance of various properties, and bequeathing complex assets with multiple owners and contradicting beneficiaries.

Some estate plans are much simpler than others. Still, every plan must be individually and uniquely crafted to the given client’s specifications, requiring a wealth of knowledge and understanding in various law areas. A well-crafted estate plan is minimal, insofar that it does what it must to maximize the value of the estate and minimize its costs.

Certified Estate Planner (CEP)

Offered by the National Institute of Certified Estate Planners, the certified estate planner (CEP) qualification is a certification available to tax, law, and financial professionals. A certified estate planner certification requirement is a combination of self-study and instructor-led courses, usually online given current circumstances.

These classes include Q&A sections and case studies. The upfront cost of a certified estate planner course and certification is $1,695, with an additional $235 annual recertification fee after the first year and an extra mandatory eight hours of continuing education every two years.

Certified Estate and Trust Specialist (CES)

Offered by the Institute for Business and Finance (IBF), the Certified Estate and Trust Specialist certificate costs $1,365 (and an annual fee of $125). It requires aspiring enrollees to have at least one year of experience in the finance industry and a B.A. degree.

The coursework itself is a six-module self-study program. It is completed via a total of three exams and a case study. The certification requires an additional 30 hours of continuing education every two years. The IBF also offers mini-courses.

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP)

Offered by the Global Academy of Finance and Management, the Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) certification is a specialized certification for estate planning professionals who wish to cater to high-net-worth clients. This certification requires three years of experience in trust and estate planning specifically.

Enrollees must also have an undergraduate or graduate degree in either law, tax, finance, accounting, financial services, and at least five completed related courses. The CTEP certification requires varying levels of continuing education per year and specializes in anti-avoidance rules, foreign corporations, tax treaties, and more.

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)

Offered by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, the Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) certification requires that enrollees either be licensed attorneys at law, CPAs, CTFAs, CFPs, CLUs, or ChFCs. An AEP certification also requires five years of prior experience in estate planning.

Those seeking certification can choose to skip the coursework if they have had more than fifteen years of experience in total and pay a processing fee ($350) after forwarding the required paperwork and documentation. However, for those with less than fifteen years of experience, completing two separate graduate-level courses at the American College of Financial Services is required (each costing $1,850).

There Are Others

While the certifications mentioned above are some of the more common ones for personal finance and estate planning, there are others, such as:

      • The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA)’s Personal Financial Planning (PFP) certification includes a specialization for estate planning.
      • The American Bankers Association’s Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor (CTFA) certification.

A good estate planning professional does not necessarily need to have any given one of these certifications to be a reputable and skilled financial and tax advisor. Still, often, these certifications can help you vet a professional’s level of preparedness and familiarity with estate plans.

There is more to the vetting process than merely checking one’s credentials: a closer look at their client history, rate of success, and reputation among former clients can often give you even greater insight into their competency.

Do You Need to Hire a Certified Estate Planner?

Every American family can benefit from an estate plan – but not everyone needs a complicated one. There is no legal barrier preventing you from setting up your estate plan. The tools to do so are available online.

However, such DIY estate planning documents come with a comprehensive list of issues. Generic and online templates usually lack the specificity and nuance needed in an individualized estate plan and are often not built to satisfy local or state laws.

They may not be valid in your state or area. Or the plans may be half-finished – such as setting up a living trust without funding it. Professional estate planning services will often cost you a fraction of what it might cost to bear the long-term consequences of an insufficient or error-ridden estate plan.


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