Estate Planning Focus Area

In modern practice, estate planning is much more than drawing up a will or setting up a family trust. Especially for relatively wealthy clients but, to some extent, for all clients, estate planning encompasses both tax and business planning as well; indeed, tax planning is often the only object of drafting an estate plan. In addition, there are matters of pensions, government benefits, medical care, and family support that must be addressed. For this reason, a focus on estate planning requires a student to become familiar with a wide range of courses that revolve around issues of finances, family, and wealth distribution. The courses described below are divided into those that are necessary for even a rudimentary understanding of the estate planner's role and those that are desirable adjuncts to the basic courses in rounding out the estate planner's expertise.

In general, the foundational course for the Estate Planning Focus Area is Trusts and Estates. In this course, students learn about wills, trusts, and laws relating to family protection that are fundamental estate-planning tools. In conjunction with or following the Trusts and Estates course, students take a skills course -- either a clinic or a drafting lab -- which emphasizes the practical side of working with trusts and estates. Taxation, the other major component of estate planning, is studied first in Individual Income Tax (which is a general prerequisite to Gift and Estate Tax) and then explored further in Gift and Estate Tax. Both Trusts and Estates and Gift and Estate Tax are the only courses (other than general prerequisites like Individual Income Tax) that every student must take leading up to the Estate Planning Seminar, which is a required capstone course.

To round out this mini-curriculum, students must take two or more of five elective courses that highlight areas of the law that, while not fundamental to all estate planning, nevertheless contribute to the ability of the estate planner to understand and address all facets of a client's needs. These courses are Community Property, Family Dissolution, Elder Law, Pensions and Employee Benefits, and Income Taxation of Trusts and Estates. Students who have a greater interest in large-firm or tax practice might gravitate toward the tax electives. Those interested in a small- to medium-firm practice, possibly with a broader family-law emphasis, might lean toward the Community Property, Family Law, and Elder Law electives. Along the way, it is recommended but not required that a student take the courses in Business Entities and Business Planning. Finally, the capstone course of this focus area is the required Estate Planning Seminar. It is designed to be taken in a student's final year, after all the other courses in the focus have been completed and the student is in the best possible position to benefit from the course. Students who complete this curriculum will have the best preparation the School of Law can provide to begin a career in estate planning.

Estate Planning Faculty

Career Faculty
Lisa Brodoff Elder Law, Trusts and Estates Clinic
John Eason Trusts & Estates, Non-Profit Organizations, Trust Law, Philanthropy
John Weaver Trust & Estates


Adjunct Faculty
Judd Marten Estate Planning, Gift & Estate Tax
James Spencer Community Property

Focus Area Requirements

The following results in a total commitment of 15-16 credit units, not counting the recommended related courses or Individual Income Tax, which is a prerequisite to Gift and Estate Tax. Plan the completion of your focus area with a focus area tracking form.

Course Descriptions

Foundational Courses (both courses required)

  • Trusts & Estates (3 cr)
  • Gift & Estate Tax (3 cr)

Skills Component Courses (at least one course required)

  • Trusts & Estates Clinic (3 cr)
  • Trusts & Estates Drafting Lab (1 cr)

Elective Courses (at least two courses required)

  • Community Property (2 cr)
  • Elder Law (3 cr)
  • Family Dissolution and Related Issues (3 cr)

Capstone Course (required)

  • Estate Planning (3 cr; taken in third year)

Additional Related Courses

Students are advised to (but need not) take the following two recommended courses:

  • Business Entities