Facing end-of-life decisions and protecting family wealth is a challenging experience for all. In these difficult times, estate planning attorneys help people plan for the distribution of their estate and establish a will, trust, and power of attorney.
These attorneys, also referred to as estate law attorneys or probate attorneys are licensed, experienced professionals with an in-depth understanding of the federal and state laws that apply to how estates are inventoried, valued, dispersed, and taxed after death.
Are you interested in how to become an estate planning attorney? Learn more about this practice area and its benefits.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the management and disposal of an estate in the event of incapacitation or death. Estates are planned during the person’s life and establish how their affairs will be handled.
This is a complicated process, and for many, it can be overwhelming. There are numerous components to estate planning, including a comprehensive overview of assets like houses, investments, cash, cars, clothing, jewelry, retirement accounts, savings, and more.
The intent of estate planning is to properly prepare for the future while you’re sound and capable. A properly prepared estate plan lays out your last wishes precisely as you want them, in the most tax-advantageous manner, to avoid any questions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, or disputes after death.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?
Estate planning is a specialization in the legal profession. Estate planning attorneys work with clients to plan and prepare legal documents and their estate. These attorneys have an in-depth understanding of the state and federal laws related to wills and trusts and the probate process.
The duties and responsibilities of the estate attorney may include counseling clients and drafting legal documents for living wills, living trusts, estate plans, and estate taxes. If needed, an estate planning attorney may participate in litigation in probate court on behalf of their clients.
Some of an estate planning attorney’s duties may include:
- Administering clients’ estates based on their wills or revocable living trusts
- Advising clients about life insurance policies, retirement plans, and charitable contributions
- Assisting clients in settling financial affairs
- Facilitating the transfer of titles within an estate
- Ensuring the honoring of last wishes for property and healthcare
- Providing counsel to clients to establish trust and designate assets to beneficiaries
What’s the Job Market Outlook for Estate Planning Attorneys?
As the population ages, jobs as estate planning attorneys are projected to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of attorneys is expected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. About 46,000 openings for attorneys are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
How to Become an Estate Planning Attorney
Complete Undergraduate Work and Relevant Experience
The path to becoming an estate planning attorney is similar to other practice areas. To get into law school, you must have an undergraduate degree and a high GPA. There are no specific majors, but you may want to consider legal studies, law, accounting, finance, or tax majors.
If possible, consider opportunities to gain real-world work experience with mentorships or internships related to estate planning. Doing so will give you the skills and experience to earn admittance into law school and network with others.
Take the Law School Admissions Test and Apply to Law School
The Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, is an essential component of applying to law school. This standardized test evaluates verbal reasoning and reading skills. Typically, the LSAT is available four times per year.
It’s important to prepare for the LSAT. Most prospective students start studying for the LSAT a year in advance, often with a study group or tutor.
Most law students apply for law school during the fall semester of the final year of their undergraduate studies. Keep this in mind and take the LSAT early enough to prepare for the application process.
Attend Law School
Becoming an estate planning attorney – or any attorney – requires earning a Juris Doctor. Law school typically takes three years to complete. The first year includes general courses, but the second and third years offer specialized courses to narrow your focus to your desired practice area.
Some of the relevant courses for estate planning include:
- Asset management
- Family law
- Estate planning
- Real estate law
- Family law
Pass the Bar Exam
Once you earn your Juris Doctor, you must pass the bar exam to receive a license and practice law. Each state has its own requirements for the bar exam, but it’s usually a standardized test that evaluates your knowledge of the legal system, law, and ethics.
Consider a Certificate
If you want to deepen your knowledge, you can pursue a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in estate planning or related topics, which is an advanced postgraduate academic degree for those with an academic law degree or a professional law degree. These programs may take one or two years to complete, but give you a deeper understanding of your specialty.
Estate Planning Attorney Salary
An estate planning attorney’s salary can vary by location and other factors. On average, the annual salary for an estate attorney in the U.S. is $97,498. On the high end, an estate planning attorney’s salary may be $153,000, according to ZipRecruiter. The estimates from Glassdoor are similar.
Estate planning attorneys can work at large or mid-sized law firms or branch out on their own with a solo practice. There are many benefits to a solo practice, such as staying connected to the clients, setting up your own cash flow structure, or implementing resources like law practice management software tailored to wills and estate planning law
What Is the Uniform Probate Code and Do Estate Planning Attorneys Need It?
Estate planning attorneys need to know the Uniform Probate Code appropriate trust for their state. This code relates to the limits and rules imposed on wills, trusts, and other legal documents relevant to estate planning.
The Uniform Probate Code can vary by state, but these laws govern different aspects of estate planning and probates, such as the creation of the trust or the legal validity of wills.
Become an Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning law is both a beneficial and lucrative legal service. As an estate planning attorney, you can use your law degree to help people in the community with a vital task – planning for their legacy.
Estate planning attorneys have a lot of flexibility with the introduction of remote or hybrid working models and legal technology. Attorneys are no longer tied to joining a specific practice, they have the flexibility to work from anywhere while expanding the client base they serve.
As more clients seek out digital services, having the ability to plan out the important aspects of their lives from a laptop or over a quick call will give will and estate planning attorneys a competitive edge.
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