Can You Bequeath Frequent Flier Miles?

You’ve racked up hundreds of thousands of frequent flier miles. They’re worth thousands of dollars, and you’d like to share them with loved ones after you die. Can you? At many airlines, frequent flier miles die when you do, says The Wall Street Journal’s article “A Thorny Inheritance Issue: Frequent-Flier Miles.”

Many airlines simply close the accounts. Others may make an exception, if you plead, but this adds more stress during a time of grief. Like everything associated with airlines, there’s likely to be a fee to transfer miles to an heir’s account, diminishing the value of the miles.

United and American Airlines say their miles are not transferable. Except, if they are. At the airlines’ discretion, they may allow it with proper documentation, like a death certificate, executed will and maybe fees. Spokespeople for both airlines say they have stopped collecting fees in recent years, and United reports that it’s going to update terms and conditions to remove fees, in the case of death.

Others, like Qantas, British Airways, Singapore, and Korean, say that miles die when you do. Southwest gives you 24 months to use miles after the owner dies, assuming you have the right login information. Emirates and All Nippon are among those who require a request to transfer miles, within six months of a death. Some airlines require both a death certificate and a will or a court order showing who was named to inherit the miles.

In 2013, Delta changed its rules to state that miles die with users, unless there is written permission from a Delta officer. That means a vice president and above. Delta doesn’t share the info of what you’d need to have for an exemption. Before the rule changed, Delta’s policy was that miles were owned by the member and could be inherited. However, the language is now far stricter, and the tone is not encouraging. A statement responding to questions, says that Delta encourages customers to reach out and the airline will review them on a case-by-case basis.

For travelers, this is a no-win situation. For one user, who unexpectedly lost her husband, using his miles by accessing his account, got her and her son to a family wedding a year after his death. When a spouse dies, there are many issues and big decisions. That’s the last time anyone should have to be on the phone with an impersonal airline, begging a clerk to transfer miles.

It would be a kindness for airlines to show a human side and allow miles to be transferred with a death certificate. However, at the heart of the issue, is an industry-wide policy that customers don’t own those frequent-flier miles. The airlines do. You’re awarded miles for flying, whether they come from a credit card company or from the airline. The U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have consistently held that airlines have the right to create the rules and customers must live by them.

Jet Blue and British Airways allow families to “pool” their miles, by linking together accounts of family members and sharing miles or points. However, you must sign up before any of the owners die.

These are Some tips that might help:

  • Put explicit instructions in your will, as to who should inherit your miles. It may help with airline’s “case by case” consideration.
  • Make sure that someone has your account information, passwords and access to the credit card and email that is associated with the account.
  • Don’t pay to transfer miles. If the airline won’t relent, then make sure the fee doesn’t wipe out the value of the miles.
  • If you can sign up for family pooling with an airline, do it.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2019) “A Thorny Inheritance Issue: Frequent-Flier Miles.”

Leaving a Legacy Is Not Just about Money

A legacy is not necessarily about money, says a survey that was conducted by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Ave Wave. More than 3,000 adults (2,600 of them were 50 and older) were surveyed and focus groups were asked about end-of-life planning and leaving a legacy. The article, “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have” from The Voice, shared a number of the participant’s responses.

A total of 94% of those surveyed said that a life well-lived, is about “having friends and family that love me.” 75% said that a life well-lived is about having a positive impact on society. A mere 10% said that a life well-lived is about accumulating a lot of wealth.

People want to be remembered for how they lived, not what they did at work or how much money they saved. Nearly 70% said they most wanted to be remembered for the memories they shared with loved ones. And only nine percent said career success was something they wanted to be remembered for.

While everyone needs to have their affairs in order, especially people over age 55, only 55% of those surveyed reported having a will. Only 18% have what are considered the three key essentials for legacy planning: a will, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney.

The will addresses how property is to be distributed, names an executor of the estate and, if there are minor children, names who should be their guardian. The health care directive gives specific directions as to end-of-life preferences and designates someone to make health care decisions for you, if you can’t. A power of attorney designates someone to make financial decisions on your behalf when you can’t do so, because of illness or incapacity.

An estate plan is often only considered when a trigger event occurs, like a loved one dying without an estate plan. That is a wake-up call for the family, once they see how difficult it is when there is no estate plan.

Parents age 55 and older had interesting views on leaving inheritances and who should receive their estate. Only about a third of boomers surveyed and 44% of Gen Xers said that it’s a parent’s duty to leave some kind of inheritance to their children. A higher percentage of millennials surveyed—55%–said that this was a duty of parents to their children.

The biggest surprise of the survey: 65% of people 55 and older reported that they would prefer to give away some of their money, while they are still alive. A mere 8% wanted to give away all their assets, before they died. Only 27% wanted to give away all their money after they died.

Reference: The Voice (June 16, 2019) “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have”

What Are Some Good Tips for Business Succession Planning in The Internet Age?

When considering how to make sure your business continues to thrive, it’s important to remember that if you do nothing, your business already has a default plan in place: if no additional planning is done, your business is an asset of your estate and will be subject to probate.

Forbes’ article, “Business Succession Planning In The Internet Age,” says that there are four issues with this default plan. First, it can take years for a court to probate your estate. In that time, your business can dry up, when probate is finalized. Next, if you do not have an estate plan, your heirs may fight over who will inherit the business. Whoever inherits the business under the state’s intestate succession laws may also not be the best person to make sure your business will continue to grow and be successful. Finally, if you have co-owners, they might not like your heirs and could get into disputes with the new owners that harm the business.

There are two legal tools to look at when reviewing your options: a buy-sell agreement and good estate planning.

A Buy-Sell Agreement. This is a contract between the co-owners of a company that addresses a variety of business-changing events, such as when an owner dies. Rather than the deceased owner’s equity being a part of the assets distributed during probate, the buy-sell agreement can include an agreed-upon amount that will be paid to the estate, in exchange for the business repurchasing the equity. The purchase is often financed with a life insurance policy on each owner of the business.

Estate Planning. Instead of allowing your business to be subject to probate, a business owner can work with an estate planning attorney to make the business an asset of the owner’s trust.

With either option, be sure you note the important digital assets for the continued operation of your business. Your business’s digital assets may include customer lists, intellectual property and creative products. It is important to remember these tips on considering your digital assets:

  1. Understand the policies that impact your tools. Review your software provider’s policies on what happens if your company needs to name a new point of contact, pay bills differently, or be transferred to a different company, in case the unexpected happens.
  2. Security and redundancy. A company’s success requires owners and employees to keep proprietary information and client information secure. However, the concern for safety must be balanced with redundancy that considers which people will have access to digital assets and an understanding of what to do with them, if the owner or main management team is unable to tend to business as usual.
  3. Add digital assets in legal documents. Include an inventory of digital assets in your buy-sell agreement or estate plan. Be specific about who should get access to digital assets.

Creating a detailed plan as to who should have access to your business’s digital assets in case of your incapacitation or death, is an important part of succession planning.

Want to keep the family farm going? Here’s an article on succession planning for the family farm.

Reference: Forbes (April 8, 2019) “Business Succession Planning In The Internet Age”