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Can you leave your frequent flyer miles to loved ones?

You're taking the important step of creating an estate plan while you're relatively young and healthy. Congratulations! Too many people never get around to it, and their loved ones pay the price after they're gone.

Even the most conscientious Arizonans neglect some valuable assets when planning their estate. One of these is airline miles. Whether you've accumulated them through extensive business travel or simply by charging your purchases on a credit card that earns miles, your balances with one or more airlines could provide loved ones with a chance to travel that they couldn't afford on their own.

However, bequeathing frequent flier miles isn't without its complications. Every airline has its own policies and procedures. Sometimes the airline's written policy doesn't mesh with its real-life practices. As one law professor notes, airlines are "constantly shifting the policy, and sometimes it depends upon who you talk to and what you can get done."

Often the program's terms and conditions language around transferring miles upon death are contradictory. Airline employees may decide on a case-by-case basis whether they will let someone else have your miles and what documentation they'll require that person to provide.

This is one of those circumstances where people who ask nicely can get a completely different outcome than those who demand what they believe they're entitled to. You can help make the process go more easily for your loved ones by letting them know what airlines you have miles with and possibly leave them your log-in information to those reward programs.

It's probably wise to add something in your estate plan about who you want your miles to go to, or at least who should determine how they'll be disbursed. Take world-renowned chef and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, whom we can assume left behind a considerable number of frequent flyer miles when he passed away recently. He reportedly designated in his estate plan that his estranged wife should disburse his miles as she believes he would want.

You can't take your airline miles with you when you die. Therefore, you may want to take that trip around the world while you can enjoy it or transfer miles to loved ones while you're around to see their vacation pictures. However, your Arizona estate planning attorney can provide valuable advice on how to document your wishes for any miles left after you're gone.

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