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Including frequent flyer miles in estate plans

When celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain died, his will contained a directive leaving his frequent flyer miles to his estranged wife to “dispose of in accordance with what she believes to be his wishes.”

Bourdain’s frequent flyer account was almost assuredly large. He built the latter half of his career as a globetrotter, traveling the world sharing meals and exotic food experiences. Though most people probably don’t have as many frequent flyer miles as Bourdain, many do have hundreds of thousands of them.

Each airline has different rules and regulations on the transfer of miles after death. Many airlines, such as Delta, have clear policies indicating frequent flyer miles are not transferable upon death. However, some of those same policies go on to stipulate that the airline may transfer miles to certain authorized persons at their discretion.

The American Airlines policy, for example, states: “Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor status, nor upgrades are transferable by the member … upon death … However, American Airlines, in its sole discretion, may credit accrued mileage to persons specifically identified in court approved divorce decrees and wills upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees.”

In other words, if you include a clause in your will bequeathing your frequent flyer miles, the airline may or may not honor it.

Improve the odds of transfer
Talk with your estate planning professional for help deciphering airline policies and taking the necessary steps to transfer your miles. To help ensure your miles will transfer, include a provision in your will that makes your wishes clear. That will provide important documentation if the airline requests proof of your intent.

You will also want to provide your account number and login information to your executor along with written instructions about who can access your account.

Your airline miles may be a way to leave a legacy to someone after your death. Of course, frequent flyer policies may change at any time. You might be better off using or donating your miles now, while you can, rather than risk losing them after you die.

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