Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning the process of deciding what should happen to your wealth and assets when you die or should you become incapacitated. Along with protecting your assets during your life and after your death, an estate plan will help your family avoid probate and minimize the tax owed by your estate. The plan involves a broad range of topics and the laws are not only complex, but they vary state by state. An estate planning lawyer is a legal professional that helps clients create an estate plan that will protect their family from the effects of disability and death. Keep reading to learn more about the estate planning lawyer.

What Does an Estate Planning Lawyer Do?

Estate planning is the most important step you can take to ensure your wishes are honored and your loved ones are protected after your death. Along with certifying your assets are divided accordingly, an estate plan can:

  • Minimize the amount of taxes that will need to be paid before your property is transferredafter your death
  • Help your loved ones avoid the costs associated with probate court
  • Dictate the funeral arrangements you have chosen
  • Set forth the types of life-long medical care you want in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes

Elements of an Estate Plan

In order to cover the different aspects of estate planning, the plan should include:

Will or trust – A will is a legal document that details how a person’s property should be divided and how custody of minor children should be handled after death. A living trust allows an individual to place their assets in a “trust” while they are alive, and those assets are then transferred to beneficiaries by a chosen representative upon death. Creating a trust can also help a person’s beneficiaries avoid high estate taxes.

Letter of intent – Document left to an executor or a beneficiary outlining what should be done with specific assets after death or incapacitation.

Beneficiary designations – Beneficiary designations occur when an individual chooses who will inherit their assets in the event of death.

Healthcare power of attorney – Legal document created when an individual wants to designate someone to be their representative if they become unable to make decisions regarding their own health care.

Durable power of attorney – Enables a person to appoint someone to handle their legal and financial issues should they become incapacitated.

Guardianship designations – Allows parents of a minor to give another person guardianship of the child’s property and person in the event of death or incapacitation.

Estate planning lawyers assist clients with all details of planning an estate from giving advice to making sure wishes are carried up after death. These attorneys draft trusts and wills along with power of attorney documents. They also work to ensure life savings and assets are safe from creditors and that estate taxes are avoided or minimized. Lawyers in this field of practice also help to pass property to loved ones according to a person’s wishes. When carrying out these duties, they also make certain all aspects of the estate plan meet state guidelines.

Professional Requirements to Become an Estate Planning Lawyer

To become an estate planning lawyer, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. While working towards your bachelor’s degree, you must take the law school admissions test (LSAT). The LSAT is a standardized exam that assess reading comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning proficiency. The score is one of the main factors law schools consider when deciding which students to admit.

If successful when taking the LSAT, you must attend law school for three years before receiving a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.). This three year program involves the study of basic law aspects as well as specific areas of the law.

Once you receive your law degree, the last step you will take to become an estate planning lawyer is taking the bar exam in your state. If you plan to practice in more than one state, you may be required to take the exam in each of those states.

Additional Education and Experience

To gain experience while attending law school, you can complete clerkships or internships. This can help open job possibilities once you become a licensed attorney. An estate law attorney is also required to be trained in Uniform Probate Code, which governs wills and trusts.

You can also choose to continue your education by working towards a Master of Law degree (M.L. or LL.M). This entails an additional two years of coursework. This degree is internationally recognized and will give you global credibility.

Additional Licensure Requirements

Each state also has additional licensure requirements and most consist of mandatory continuing education courses. These courses keep lawyers up to date with laws and case precedent. The number of hours required to maintain a license varies by state.

Where Can You Work as an Estate Planning Lawyer

There are several options when it comes to where you can work as an estate planning lawyer. You can work independently or join a private practice. You can also become employed with a law firm that specializes in estate planning or has a department dedicated to that area of practice.

Estate planning attorneys spend most of their time working in an office meeting with clients and taking care of paperwork. They may travel, however, to meet clients or attend probate hearings.

How do Estate Planning Lawyers Get Paid

How estate planning lawyers get paid depends varies, but many charge a flat-rate fee, especially if they are drawing up wills or performing other standard services. When dealing with a more complicated case, however, they may charge an hourly rate. The attorneys may also require a retainer fee. This fee is paid up front and placed into a special account for the lawyer to use as he or she works on the case.

Estate Planning Lawyer Salary

The average salary for attorneys in the U.S. is $119,250 as of 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. The accounts for all lawyers since the BLS does not break it down by area of practice.

The exact amount of a lawyer’s salary is dictated by factors such as experience, size of firm, and location. Self-employed attorneys generally have potential to fall on the higher end of the salary spectrum as do those who work for a foundation or trust.

Employment Outlook for Estate Planning Lawyer

By 2026, the employment rate for lawyers is projected to grow at a rate of approximately 8% according to the BLS. This is average for all U.S. occupations. Competition for lawyer jobs continues to increase as more students graduate from law school than jobs become available.

Hiring an Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning is serious business, which means hiring a qualified estate planning lawyer is essential. The laws are very specific when it comes to certain aspects of an estate plan and the attorney you hire should be familiar with these laws. Since you will be providing details about your financial situation, you should also trust your lawyer and feel comfortable sharing this information with him — both the good and the bad.

When you hire a lawyer, it is important that you both work on keeping the attorney/client relationship productive. Your lawyer should always explain your options and treat your decisions with respect and you should always share information that can affect your estate plan.

Before hiring an attorney, set up an initial consultation, which is generally done free of charge. This meeting gives you the chance to talk with him and inquire about his experience. You should also discuss the lawyer’s fees before signing a contract or paying a retainer fee.

How to Find the Right Estate Planning Lawyer

Finding the right estate planning lawyer can be a daunting task, but with some help, you can find one that meets your needs. You may have to use more than one resource before you find an attorney you want to work with.

If you use a financial advisor, they can be a great source of information as an estate plan is often part of financial planning. You can also turn to an accountant as most can recommend at least one estate planning attorney. Another option is consulting with another lawyer you have worked with, even if they practice in a different area of the law. Most attorneys are familiar with other attorneys in the area and are aware of their reputation.

You can also check lawyer database websites. These websites provide a list of attorneys and their location. Your state or local bar association may also maintain a list of attorneys and their practice areas

Essential Information

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) law is optional
Degree Field(s) Law
License/Certification Licensure in state of practice
Key Skills Creative problem-solving, critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, ability to work in a fast-paced environment, attention to detail
Number of Jobs (2016) 792,500
Job Outlook
8% growth rate (average growth rate)
Median Salary (2017) $119,250*
On the Job Training Moderate term of on-the-job training
Top Earners Top earners in the bankruptcy field are generally employed by large law firms

(*Source: the BLS)