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Can you include your frequent flyer miles in your estate plan?

There's been significant media coverage of the tragic, untimely death of celebrity chef, author and world traveler Anthony Bourdain, who introduced viewers of his television show to people he met and shared meals with across the globe.

It's no wonder that among the considerable assets he left behind were airline frequent flyer miles. It's not known how many thousands or perhaps millions of miles Bourdain had when he passed away. However, he reportedly left them to his wife, from whom he was separated, to "dispose of in accordance to what she believes to be his wishes."

While most people don't have the frequent flyer miles that Bourdain likely did, many people have hundreds of thousands of miles across one or more airlines when they die. Perhaps they were saving up for a grand vacation they were never able to take. Maybe they were so busy traveling for business that they never made time to use their miles for a vacation. Even people who aren't frequent travelers often have credit cards that allow them to earn miles and other travel rewards just by using the card.

If you want to include your airline miles in your estate plan, it's important to find out what each airline's policy is regarding how miles are transferred after a person's death. For example, United Airlines' MileagePlus policy states, "In the event of the death or divorce of a Member, United may, in its sole discretion, credit all or a portion of such Member's accrued mileage to authorized persons upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to United and payment of applicable fees."

While helping you with your estate planning strategy, your California estate planning attorney can assist you in deciphering the airlines' policies and take whatever steps are necessary to ease the transfer of your miles to those you want to benefit from them. Bourdain likely made a wise choice designating a specific person to determine what will become of his miles.

As with every other asset we leave to others after our deaths, we can use our airline miles to leave a legacy for others. In Bourdain's case that involved seeing the world and exploring other cultures. As he once said, "Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move."

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