3 Reasons Accountants Should Understand Estate Planning
Hint: It’s about much more than just the numbers and tax code.
Students in the Master of Accounting program at St. Edward’s take the Estate Planning and Taxation course that covers the probate process, medical powers of attorney, life insurance gift tax, trusts, and charitable transfers. Michael Stern, who teaches the course and is both a CPA and attorney, covers everything from creating a strong organizational culture to fostering innovation and collaboration among employees. Here’s a look inside the classroom.
Michael Stern wants every student in his class to learn the full complement of estate planning tools at their disposal. But more than that, he wants them to go beyond the numbers to be sensitive and thoughtful guides for their clients.
Advisors play a nuanced role in a client relationship, and the process of estate planning reveals the soft skills they need to be successful in all areas of accounting.
There are a number of different ways in the tax code that allow parents to give tax-free gifts to their minor or adult children. But advisers must listen to the concerns of their clients, because sometimes these benefits are outweighed by other concerns. “Some parents believe their child isn’t responsible enough [to accept a gift], and sometimes, the parents simply want to retain complete control of their finances,” says Stern.
Few people want to think about their own death, but an adviser has the responsibility of helping his or her clients make the best possible decisions. “Some people find it extremely difficult emotionally to even consider the possibility of death or incapacity, or even advancing age. And some parents do not want to consider the possibility that they may not survive to long enough to see their children grow up to adulthood,” says Stern. “It’s important to discuss even the most challenging situations openly, even if it’s not easy.”
“Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Stern. “We want to teach future accountants all the different issues at play, so when they see specific situations, they address them in the best possible way.”
And if future tax experts and auditors still aren’t sold, Stern adds that class lessons often lead students to create estate plans for themselves and family members that save thousands of dollars and provide peace of mind, no matter what the future holds. “They may or may not end up doing estate planning as their job, but the lessons of the course are still be applicable to their own lives,” he says.
The Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University helps students develop deep technical expertise in areas including accounting research, advanced federal taxation, and fraud examination. CPA pass rates for St. Edward’s University graduates are among the top five in the state.
Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.