The Benefits of Earning an Estate Planning Certificate

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A tax lawyer consults with clients on an estate plan.

Many people consider estate planning something they do once and then forget. As any tax professional will attest, failing to update an estate plan in light of ever-changing tax laws is tantamount to throwing your money away.

This is especially so in the wake of the tremendous changes in estate taxation enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), which took effect on January 1, 2018. As the law firm Greenberg Traurig explains, the act offers “significant opportunities to engage in beneficial estate planning.” Among these benefits is an increase in transfer tax exemption amounts from about $5 million per person and $10 million per couple to approximately $11 million per person and $22 million per couple. Another important TCJA change for many estate plans is the impact of the loss of state and local income tax deductions on grantor trusts used to transfer gifted property.

Addressing the challenges of estate and tax planning in the aftermath of such major alterations in tax law requires that tax professionals possess a thorough and ongoing understanding of the many implications of these changes for their clients. An effective way to gain this deep level of practical expertise is by earning an estate planning certificate through a Master of Laws in Taxation or Master of Taxation program.

Here is a closer look at the benefits of earning an estate planning certificate in light of the changes implemented by the TCJA to the estate tax, gift tax, geration skipping transfer tax, and trust income tax laws.

What Is an Estate Planning Certificate?

Estate planners advise their clients on the most effective legal, financial and accounting strategies to minimize the tax burden when transferring assets to their heirs and beneficiaries. An estate planning certificate ensures that tax professionals possess the required knowledge to meet the estate planning needs of their clients.

The concepts covered in a typical estate planning certificate curriculum include estate taxes, gift taxes and charitable gifts. Tax professionals who provide estate planning services typically earn a degree in law, accounting or finance before pursuing an estate planning certificate. Central to the role of an estate planner is devising a plan that passes the assets of the client’s estate to the heirs and beneficiaries in a tax efficient manner while abiding by the client’s wishes.

Advantages of Earning an Estate Planning Certificate

The benefits of an estate planning certificate are demonstrated most clearly in the aftermath of significant tax law changes such as those implemented by the TCJA. For example, the site Financial Planning points out that the doubling of the personal exemption to more than $22 million per couple has caused some people to believe they no longer have to worry about estate planning at all. As Financial Planning explains, however, many older wills and revocable trusts use a formula to fund bequests that will be thrown out of whack by the new higher exemptions. Any reference in the estate instrument that refers to the “maximum amount” under the previous tax code may leave certain beneficiaries with nothing under the new law.

An estate planning certificate keeps tax professionals up to date on the many implications of these and other alterations to the tax code for their clients. However, effective estate planning encompasses much more than tax planning, so all aspects of clients’ estate plans must be revised in light of the TCJA’s changes to tax law. Certificate programs provide practitioners with the knowledge they need to take full advantage of the many opportunities for estate planning presented by these and other large-scale tax revisions, many of which are not obvious.

Earning an Estate Planning Certificate at Villanova University

Rarely has tax legislation had the wide-ranging impact of the TCJA. That is why it is incumbent on tax professionals to take the lead in alerting their clients to the implications of the TCJA for their estate plans and communicating to the clients the need to update their plans. Courses in Villanova University’s Master of Laws in Taxation and Master of Taxation programs cover areas impacted by ongoing revisions to the tax code and their effect on estate planning and other financial strategies. The Master of Laws in Taxation is intended for attorneys looking to develop a specialty in taxation; the Master of Taxation is intended for accountants and business professionals who seek greater knowledge of tax law and practice.

Students in the Estate Planning Certificate specialty within the Master of Laws in Taxation or Master of Taxation program complete five courses, either as a stand-alone program or as part of the degree program. The courses prepare tax professionals with the skills they will need to address their clients’ complex estate planning needs. These five courses serve as the Estate Planning Certificate program’s foundation:

Wealth Tax

This course focuses on the federal estate and gift tax provisions. Among the topics covered in this course are joint interests and transfers that leave some interest or power with the grantor. Other important estate-planning issues highlighted in the course are distribution of proceeds from life insurance policies, property for which powers of appointment apply, marital deductions and split gifts. Tax strategies are examined through problem-solving exercises involving the application of appropriate authorities.

Taxation of Trusts and Estates

The focus of this course is the federal income tax liability of trusts and estates. The course covers steps such as filing the final tax return of the decedent, calculating the decedent’s income and deductions, and the tax obligations of beneficiaries under the conduit concept. Also covered in the course are the separate share rule, throwback rules, grantor trusts, and the relationship between federal estate tax and income tax deduction elections.

Fundamentals of Testamentary Estate Planning Techniques

This course covers the changes in estate planning strategies required as individuals reach various stages of their lives. Topics covered include typical estate planning scenarios for married and unmarried couples; planning inter vivos trusts such as a minor’s trust, an insurance trust or a charitable trust; and estate planning for corporate executives and business owners as it relates to business transition strategies and the unique needs of specific individuals.

Fundamentals of Lifetime Estate Planning

This course examines the estate planning needs of a business owner in terms of federal income tax and the three categories of federal transfer taxes: gift tax, estate tax and generation-skipping tax. Among the concepts studied in the course are retirement distributions, buy-sell agreements, liability safeguards, life insurance as income protection, valuation freezes, marital deductions and estate tax deferral strategies.

Acquiring the Skills to Meet Clients’ Estate Planning Needs

The ever-changing tax code requires that tax professionals meet the challenge of staying abreast of all new tax laws that impact the estate planning needs of their clients. The Estate Planning Certificate offered as part of Villanova University’s Master of Laws in Taxation and Master of Taxation programs is tailored to keeping tax professionals up to date as they navigate the complexities of estate tax law. Discover how earning an Estate Planning Certificate from Villanova University prepares tax professionals to guide their clients through the estate planning process.


Recommended Readings

How Lawyers Can Benefit From a Master of Laws in Taxation

Tax Automation: The Future of Corporate Tax Planning and Reporting

The Tax Technology Gap: Future Issues to Watch


CPA Journal, “Estate Planning After the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Opening the Dialog”

Financial Planning, “Avoid ‘Dangerous’ Planning Generalizations After New Tax Law”

Forbes, “How the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 Affects Estate Taxes”

Greenberg Traurig, “Estate Planning Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”

Investopedia, “Certifications for Estate Planning”

Journal of Financial Planning, “Estate Planning Strategies After Tax Reform”

U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Estate and Gift Tax FAQs

Villanova University, Master of Laws in Taxation

Villanova University, Master of Taxation

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