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Duties of an estate planning and probate paralegal
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 a probate paralegal career.
How to become a probate paralegal in 4 steps
Earn a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Paralegal programs are offered by community colleges, universities and business schools specifically providing paralegal training. Entry into the paralegal field is open to a wide range of individuals with diverse educational backgrounds and career changers, so the length of programs and their admission requirements may vary.
A certificate program usually offers only legal training. If general education coursework is not offered in your certificate program, you will need to have completed over 1-1/2 years of college or more, according to the American Bar Association.
Consider an internship.
An internship in a law firm that focuses on estate planning and probate law may open doors later on and should provide you with a practical understanding of the laws of estate planning, wills and probate.
Earn professional certification.
Once you earn your degree or certificate, you can apply for professional certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or the American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI). There are several levels of paralegal certification available, but each will require you to pass an exam.
Find a paralegal job.
Use your internship contacts to network, or apply for jobs at law firms focusing on the probate process. There are many recruiters who can help you in your job search, so look for a recruiter with experience in legal staffing. NALA hosts a job board as does the NFPA, and they don’t require you to be a member to use them, while the AAPI has a members-only career center.
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.
To become a probate or estate planning paralegal, one must first gain entry into the paralegal profession. You have several program 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
There’s positive news on the job search for estate planning paralegals. The BLS projects job growth at 14.1%, much faster than average for all occupations, through 2031. 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.
Median Salary: $59,200
Projected job growth: 14.1%
10th Percentile: $37,690
25th Percentile: $46,850
75th Percentile: $75,560
90th Percentile: $94,960
Projected job growth: 14.1%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$87,610||$56,780||$124,650|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.