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Estate Planning Certification: Certificate Program Summary

Estate planning certificate programs are available to those with a law or accounting degree and can supplement their legal knowledge. Certification in the field is optional. Get details on the program prerequisites, areas of study, career options and possible salaries in this field.

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Essential Information

Graduate estate planning certificate programs can typically be completed in one year and are offered at law schools. In most circumstances, applicants need to have a graduate law degree or a related degree. These programs prepare students for roles in estate planning, taxation and trusts. Some programs may offer separate tracks depending upon the students' potential careers, including ones for attorneys and accountants.

Students may be required to complete a specific number of hours doing pre-approved pro bono work in estate planning or tax law. One option that graduates can consider is to earn estate planning certification, which occurs by meeting education requirements and passing a test offered by an industry organization.

Educational Prerequisites

Most schools offering certificate programs in estate planning state that students must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or equivalent degree from an accredited law school. If they did not study law, students may need to successfully complete the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam or possess an undergraduate degree in accounting from an accredited school and have performed professional tax work for at least one year. Applicants may also need a minimum grade point average based upon graduate law school or undergraduate accounting programs.

Course Topics

Students enrolled in a certificate in estate planning program typically only complete legal courses related to this portion of the law. Some courses may qualify for continuing education credit once applicants are certified. Courses offered may include the following:

  • Estate and gift tax
  • Partnership taxation
  • Tax aspects of charitable giving
  • Income taxation of trusts and estates
  • Elder law

Popular Career Options

Graduates of the estate planning certificate program can qualify for numerous law-based or accounting careers. In addition to becoming attorneys who can make estate planning their specialty, graduates can seek employment in areas such as these:

  • Paralegal or legal secretary work
  • Financial planning
  • Insurance sales

Faster than average employment growth was predicted for paralegals and legal assistants and average growth was expected for insurance sales agents from 2012 to 2022, based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). May 2012 data from the BLS showed that paralegals and legal assistants earned an average salary of $50,220. The average annual income of insurance sales agents was $63,400 in the same year.

Professional Certification Information

The National Institute of Certified Estate Planners (NICEP) offers a Certified Estate Planner (CEP) distinction that applicants can earn by completing educational courses and passing an exam ( CEPs must pay an annual fee, complete continuing education courses every two years and adhere to the NICEP's code of ethics to maintain certification. After obtaining the CEP designation, applicants can strive for a Master Certified Estate Planner (MCEP) certification by completing a NICEP-sponsored course.

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