Estate planning is a set of legal, financial and accounting advisory services typically aimed at individual investors, investment family offices, business owners and high net-worth individuals. As such, most estate planners have law, accounting, and/or finance degrees and certifications. The estate planner works with individuals to formulate and implement a tax planning and charitable contributions strategy, and to realize their financial objectives. Some major estate planning providers integrate the practice with financial advisory and wealth management services.

Knowledge And Education Needed For Certification

Wealth managers, trust officers and trust administrators, investment officers, lawyers, accountants and financial planners all have an interest in pursuing certifications. Estate planning is a complicated maze of federal and state laws, IRS rulings and judicial interpretation that affect how assets and income are treated for tax purposes based on a wide array of types of transactions, transfers, triggering events, individual profile (age, single or married, etc.) and entities. The constantly changing laws, 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.

Wealth management services – aimed at maximizing financial returns based on a risk profile – involve economic and financial sophistication that enables providers to tailor their solutions based on unique investor characteristics and life expectancy, goals and risk tolerance. Legalese is involved regarding fiduciary duties and responsibilities, and it is critical for advisors to understand expectations. Earning an estate planning certification also typically requires training courses on ethics, financial planning, tax law, compliance and the regulatory environment.

In addition to various financial advanced degrees and certifications (such as a MBA, MPA, JD, CPA and CFA), the specific, complex, and constantly changing nature of the field necessitates up-to-date awareness. Doing so elevates the level of credibility and station of an advisor, which additionally helps in developing business. Given that estate planning typically involves strategies around large sums of money, earning relevant certifications is imperative. 

Specific Certifications

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP)

The Global Academy of Finance & Management is the certifying body for the Chartered Trust and Estate Planner designation. Earning a CTEP requires at least three years of experience in estate planning or trusts. Additionally, candidates must have:

  • a degree (graduate or undergraduate) in finance, tax, accounting, financial services, law or a CPA, 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 (varies)

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)
The AEP designation is awarded by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. Candidates must:

  • be licensed to practice law as an attorney or to practice as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or be currently designated as a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Certified Trust & Financial Advisor (CTFA), among others
  • be engaged in estate planning activities as an attorney, an accountant, a life insurance professional, a financial planner or a trust officer
  • have a minimum of five years of experience engaged in estate planning and estate planning activities
  • complete two graduate courses through The American College
  • have 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

Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA)
The CTFA is awarded by the American Bankers Association (ABA) in conjunction with the Institute of Certified Bankers. The requirements include:

  • a minimum of three years experience in wealth management and completion of one approved wealth management training program
  • letter of recommendation
  • ethics statement
  • completion of 45 credits of continuing education every three years

Related Wealth Management Advisory Certifications
There are a number of additional certifications to choose from including:

The Bottom Line

Becoming an estate planner can be difficult, and may take a breath of knowledge, including law, accounting and finance. As seen, there are many ways that one can get involved and a number of different certifications that someone can obtain in order to join this challenging field.