Read Advice from an Estate Planning Paralegal
An estate planning paralegal gives paralegal training advice.
Senior Paralegal, Estate Planning
Culp, Elliott & Carpenter
Over 12 Years in the Field
Erica Bell is driving to work, and she's already thinking about a meeting with one of her high net-worth clients. Although her schedule is full today, it's not yet tax season, so she'll also get to catch up on some work. This is exactly what her paralegal training prepared her for.
If you've considered starting your paralegal training but don't know what field of law to pursue, Erica's advice will come in handy. Continue reading to find out what it's like to work as an estate planning paralegal.
What kind of paralegal training do you have?
I have a bachelor's degree in English and planned on attending law school. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get my paralegal training—and work—at a law firm where I primarily handled estate administration, document drafting and elder law matters. I enjoyed it so much that I decided a paralegal position was better suited to me.
While working at my first firm, I attended an ABA-approved paralegal program to obtain my paralegal certification. I thought that an ABA-approved program was the best choice because it is held to stringent standards.
What do you do on a typical day?
I generally set out projects that I will work on for the week, which inevitably get interrupted with someone needing something else, but that breaks up the week.
Some of the major tasks I perform as a paralegal are:
- assist attorneys with initial client meetings
- collect info for preparation of tax returns and estate planning
- review creditors' claims
- maintain financial records of estates
- prepare and file probate documents in administration of estates
- prepare state and federal estate tax returns
- prepare gift tax returns
- help with audited tax returns
- draft estate closing documents
- draft court documents for guardianships
- contact legal or auditing departments about settlements and other estate matters
What are your favorite parts of being a paralegal?
The work we do is often challenging and rather interesting with respect to tax planning. I have learned a great deal from each position that I have held at each firm, and at this position in particular, I am still learning a good deal given the complexity of tax and estate planning.
I administer estates and do a lot of corporate work (many of our clients are big real estate developers). I also administer trusts for clients, prepare and file IRS forms. I enjoy all of this work, especially the estate administration and all of the ongoing relationships that I establish with clients.
How fulfilling is your work?
I feel fulfilled because I have gotten to a place in my career where I now have several big clients assigned to me and I get to know them and become involved in their matters on an ongoing basis. It feels great to be trusted and appreciated by the firm and clients, and to know that I am an important part of the team serving our clients.
How do paralegals get promoted at your law firm?
Not all the paralegals here prepare tax returns (only estate planning paralegals), so with respect to promotion, one way to work your way up is to take on more and more tax work. As we expand, I would like to become a mentor to younger paralegals. We do not have managing paralegals at the moment, although, if we ever get large enough, I would like to try that.
How can a new paralegal find an entry level job?
I would suggest looking at local paralegal association websites, joining a paralegal association to network, working with someone at the paralegal program for placement ideas, target particular firms that interest you and contact their HR departments.
Would you recommend getting certified?
It seems that these days firms are looking for paralegals not only with experience in the field, but that also have paralegal certification. Again, I would recommend an ABA-approved paralegal program. It gives you that much more of an advantage over another person who may have a similar work experience to you.
Do you have any advice for prospective paralegals?
Try to join or contact a local paralegal association that may be able to put you in touch with some of its members to chat about the field to see if that is something you might be interested in.
As far as estate planning as a choice, it is less stressful when compared to litigation, for example, but it is often a complex and challenging field depending on your clients. The wealthier the client, the more complex and exciting the work can be.