As paralegals take on more responsibility in their job, estate planning and probate paralegals have the chance to immerse themselves in a fascinating and challenging career. You'll need to have a variety of skills in order to excel in this career path.
Estate Planning and Probate Paralegal Duties
Paralegals in this specialty usually work in law firms for lawyers who focus on estate planning, or they may work in probate courts. Some of the tasks they might do include:
- Talking with clients
- Examining their financial situations
- Preparing drafts of trusts, wills, or related documents
- Preparing probate forms
- Meeting with clients whose relative has died
- Helping collect and liquidate the deceased's assets
- Assessing creditors' claims
- Preparing estate tax returns
You'll also communicate with clients on the progress of the case, and assist with other documents or paperwork. Writing and communication skills are beneficial, as is the ability to handle the accounting of estate taxes.
Estate Planning and Probate Paralegal Education
To become a probate or estate planning paralegal, one must first gain entry into the paralegal profession. You have several options:
- Earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies
- Earn a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies
- Earn a paralegal post-degree certification
A post-degree certification may require a related bachelor's degree, but in some cases may only require a high school degree. A certificate program is a shorter, more intensive training period. Additional courses in the specialized areas of estate planning and probate would further prepare a paralegal for this specialty as well as an internship while completing a paralegal studies program.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants is $46,990. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
There's positive news on the job front as well. The BLS projects job growth at 17 percent (other legal professions are projected to grow 11 percent in comparison) through 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. There will be particularly high demand for paralegals with an estate planning specialty, and with the rapidly expanding aging population (baby boomers), the need for estate planning should grow as well.