John R. Cella, Jr.

Estate and Business Planning Attorney
Ward and Smith, P.A.
919.277.9125 Fax 919.277.9177
Post Office Box 33009, Raleigh, NC 27636-3009

John counsels clients in estate and business planning matters. He prepares estate planning documents, including wills, revocable trusts, minors trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, and charitable trusts, and advises clients on the income, estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax consequences of wealth transfers to individuals, trusts, and charitable organizations. John also works with executors and trustees in estate and trust administration matters. With respect to business planning, he assists clients in entity selection, limited liability company formation and maintenance, closely-held business succession matters (including the creation and maintenance of ESOPs), and deferred compensation for employers, owners, and key employees in employment and severance agreements. John's practice includes counseling employers on their tax-qualified retirement plans, health and welfare benefit plans, nonqualified deferred compensation plans, and equity compensation arrangements. His background in employee benefits and compensation is beneficial to clients considering income and estate tax aspects of distributions, rollovers, and trustee-to-trustee transfers from qualified retirement plans and/or IRAs.


  • LL.M., Employee Benefits, with honors, The John Marshall Law School, 2003
  • J.D., The University of South Carolina School of Law, 1999. Student Editorial Board, ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Journal
  • B.A., Economics, President's Honor List, The University of South Carolina, 1996
  • B.A., History, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1994

Honors and Distinctions*

  • "Legal Elite," Business North Carolina, Tax/Estate, 2021
  • The Best Lawyers in America, 2018 - 2021


Professional and Community Affiliations

  • Aldert Root Elementary Educational Foundation (founding board member)
  • Needham B. Broughton Capital Foundation (board of directors)
  • Needham B. Broughton High School Alumni Association
  • North Carolina Bar Association: Committees—Strategic Planning & Emerging Trends (2004-10); Trends Subcommittee, Co-chair (2005-06); Momentum 2010 Information Technology Subcommittee, Chair (2006-08); Technology Advisory Committee (2007-08)
  • North Carolina Bar Association: Section—Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law and Business
  • Saint Saviour's Center (board of directors, board chairman (2013), Carriage House volunteer bingo caller)
  • South Carolina Bar
  • Triangle Benefits Forum
  • Wake County Estate Planning Council
  • Wake Education Partnership (School Finance Committee, 2003-04 and 2004-05; Quality Matters Committee, 2005-06)
  • White Memorial Presbyterian Church (Deacon (2013-15))

Admitted to Practice

  • North Carolina, 2001 
  • South Carolina, 2000
  • All state courts in North Carolina

* Please see the following websites for an explanation of the membership standards for the following recognitions:;; and

An attorney‑client relationship may only be established through direct attorney‑to‑client communication that is confirmed by the execution of an engagement agreement. The content of any unsolicited email sent to Ward and Smith, P.A., or to any of its attorneys at an email address available on this website, will not create an attorney‑client relationship and the contents of such unsolicited email shall not be considered confidential. Therefore, do not use this website or the email addresses available on this website to provide confidential information about yourself or a legal matter to Ward and Smith or any of its attorneys.

  • American Board of Trial Advocates
  • Legal Elite Business North Carolina 2021
  • Super Lawyers 2020
  • Recognized by Best Lawyers 2021
  • U.S. News Best Lawyers 2021