Estate planning involves a set of legal, financial, and accounting advisory services provided to help clients transfer their assets to heirs in a tax-efficient way. There are a number of estate planning certifications available to finance, accounting, and legal professionals with relevant experience. Candidates must meet a minimum level of requirements first.

If you are considering a career in estate planning—or looking to hire an estate planner—the following will give you an overview of the specific certifications associated with the role and what each requires and delivers.

Key Takeaways

  • Becoming an estate planner requires having financial, tax, and accounting knowledge. 
  • Estate planners typically have law, accounting, or finance degrees and certifications.  
  • Common certifications estate planners may hold include Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP), Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), and Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CFTA).

Role of Estate Planners

Estate planners typically work with individual investors, family offices, business owners, and high-net-worth individuals. The role of an estate planner is complex and involves many moving parts.

An estate planner works with clients to formulate and implement a tax-planning strategy to efficiently pass assets, according to their wishes, to heirs and other beneficiaries. Other aspects of estate planning range from bequeathing charitable contributions to choosing life insurance.

Some major estate-planning providers integrate their practice with financial advisory and wealth management services. Wealth managers, trust officers and trust administrators, investment officers, lawyers, accountants, and financial planners all could have an interest in pursuing certifications.

Education and Expertise

Most estate planners have law, accounting, or finance degrees and certifications and for good reason. Estate planning is a complicated maze of federal and state laws, IRS rulings, and judicial interpretations. These all affect how assets and income are treated for tax purposes based on a wide array of types of transactions, transfers, triggering events, individual profiles—age, single or married, etc.—and entities. Creating and managing these transactions requires understanding fiduciary duties and responsibilities.

The constantly changing laws, as well as judicial and political climate, make estate planning a highly dynamic field in which advisors are engineering transactions that must hold water with authorities. Certain practices and insights can have a short shelf life.

In addition to various financial advanced degrees, law degrees, and certifications—an MBA, MPA, JD, CPA, and CFA—the specific, complex, and constantly changing nature of the field makes special certifications helpful. Having them also gives estate planners added credibility, which helps in growing their business.

Earning an estate planning certification typically requires training courses on ethics, financial planning, tax law, compliance, and the regulatory environment.

Estate Planning Certifications

Below are the most common certifications an estate planner may hold.

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP)

The Global Academy of Finance and Management is the certifying body for the CTEP designation, which has an emphasis on professionals who serve high-net-worth clients. Earning a CTEP requires at least three years of experience in estate planning or trusts. Additionally, candidates must have:

  • An undergraduate or graduate degree in finance, tax, accounting, financial services, law or an MBA, MS, Ph.D., or JD from an accredited school or organization
  • Five or more approved and related courses
  • A certification training course
  • Annual continuing education requirements, which vary

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)

The AEP designation is awarded by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. Candidates must be or have the following:

  • Licensed to practice law as an attorney, to practice as a CPA, or be currently designated as a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA), among others
  • Engaged in estate-planning activities as an attorney, accountant, life insurance professional, financial planner, or trust officer
  • A minimum of five years of experience engaged in estate planning and estate-planning activities
  • A minimum of 30 hours of continuing education during the previous 24 months, of which at least 15 hours must have been in estate planning
  • Two graduate courses through The American College (for those with less than 15 years experience in estate planning)

Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA)

The CFTA is awarded by the American Bankers Association. The requirements include:

  • A minimum of three years experience in wealth management and completion of one approved wealth management training program
  • A letter of recommendation
  • An ethics statement
  • Passing an exam

To maintain the designation, 45 credits of continuing education are required every three years.

Related Wealth Management Advisory Certifications

There are also a number of certifications related to estate planning that may be useful. These include the following:

The Bottom Line

Becoming an estate planner can be difficult and requires experience and a breadth of knowledge, including law, accounting, and finance. Earning an estate planning certification enhances the skills and credibility of an estate planner.