MONEY Estate Planning

What Happens to Your Airline Miles When You Die?

airplane flying off into the dawn with colorful clouds
Getty Images—Getty Images/iStockphoto

The official rules may say one thing, but heirs usually have options.

What would you do if you knew you had a potentially valuable asset that could vanish upon your death? Your bank account, empty. Your antique car, gone. Your grandmother’s jewelry, evaporated.

Globe-trotters appear to have that problem: Many airlines say officially that frequent flier miles are not your property and cannot be willed to your heirs upon your death.

“It is a big problem, because people accumulate lots of miles that they don’t use, and the policies of the different airlines are different,” says Gerry Beyer, a law professor at Texas Tech University School of Law. “They’re constantly shifting the policy, and sometimes it depends upon who you talk to and what you can get done.”

Frequent flier miles pose a bigger problem for estates than other loyalty programs because heavy travelers and rewards-card wizards can accumulate many hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of miles, Beyer says. And that adds up: By one estimate, 500,000 miles could be worth between $4,000 and $10,000, depending on the airline.

But can you pass your miles on? That depends. The secret is: Don’t take an airline’s written policy at face value. The terms of service often say one thing while the carrier’s practices offer another path.

Get the Paperwork

For example, American Airlines’ AAdvantage program terms and conditions say, “Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor upgrades are transferable by the member upon death.” That seems pretty clear.

But if you read on, you’ll see that the airline reserves the right to decide, “in its sole discretion,” to pass your miles on to beneficiaries “upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees.”

American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Nedbal clarified that the airline does indeed transfer mileage to heirs. How it works: Upon request, American Airlines provides a special affidavit form for beneficiaries to sign, affirming that they are the rightful recipients of the miles. Your heirs will need to complete it and send that back, along with the death certificate. Happily, as of now, there are no mileage transfer fees.

Similarly, United has a procedure for transferring miles — but you have to know to ask about it. The MileagePlus program rules say mileage may not be transferred, except as “expressly permitted by United.”

Spokeswoman Karen May says the airline has made “case-by-case exceptions” when members have died. Should your heirs apply for one of those exceptions, they would need to send the death certificate, a signed and notarized affidavit provided by United, and a $150 mileage transfer fee, May says.

Ask Nicely

Smaller carriers don’t always have paperwork ready for heirs to sign, but they might have luck if they just ask nicely.

For instance, Virgin America’s Elevate Reward Points credit card program rules say points “may not be transferred upon death.” But although the small airline doesn’t receive that many requests to bequeath points, says spokesman Dave Arnold, he confirms that the airline does make “case-by-case” exceptions to its rules when heirs provide documentation of a bequest.

Even if you can’t pass on your miles, you can leave your username and password behind. At Southwest Airlines, for instance, you can’t will your miles to heirs — but the Rapid Rewards program rules say your points will live on in your account 24 months after your last account activity. During that time, if your heirs have your account information, they can go into your account and use the miles, or transfer them for a fee of about 1 cent per mile, says spokesman Adam Rucker.

And no rule is ironclad. Take Delta, which made headlines in 2013 when the airline said it would stop honoring bequest requests. Delta’s SkyMiles program rules still say points may not be transferred upon death, and a Delta spokesman confirmed that, officially, that’s still the policy.

But tell that to Roberta Bekerman, a widow who wrote to Delta, “It is with great sadness that I inform you that my beloved husband, Philip, passed away on Dec. 21 … Please be so kind as to transfer his accrued SkyMiles into my account.” Delta did, the New York Times reports.

The Takeaway

You simply can’t guarantee that your spouse or kids will get your miles. “One of the biggest problems is the airlines change their policies so many times, even if you do everything perfect when you write the will, it might not work anymore,” Beyer says.

Still, there’s a good chance your airline will honor your request anyway. The best you can do is add a line to your will that says, “I leave [name of heir] my airline miles, if allowed,” Beyer suggests — and advise your children to be polite to the airline customer service reps. Either that or spend down your miles when you’re still alive; now’s the time to enjoy them.

MONEY Estate Planning

Why My Grandparents’ Home Got Torn Down

Empty residential lot
Shutterstock

Estate planning can prevent a lot of heartache.

My family loves get-togethers—we find any reason to gather and eat. We credit this wonderful trait to my grandparents. They were gracious hosts with amazing culinary skills. Their home, built with my grandfather’s hands, was a sanctuary for family, friends, and welcome strangers.

My grandparents didn’t just leave legacy of memorable gatherings; they also left their home to their children, expecting regular family reunions after they were gone. My grandparents would not have it any other way!

My grandmother died in 1994, eight years after my grandfather’s death.

Their children tried their best to embrace my grandparents’ vision of maintaining the family home. But time, distance, and money wreaked havoc on implementing the plan. Our hearts sank as the house slowly fell into disrepair. It took almost 14 years before the children agreed that one sibling would buy out the other childrens’ shares of the home.

By then, however, the damage to the home was done. Now, only the land and memories remain.

I believe that if my grandparents had addressed certain questions about the house, they might have been able to protect it after their death with some thoughtful estate planning. Here are those questions:

  • Who wants to keep the home?
  • Who would prefer their inheritance to be cash instead?
  • Who can afford to buy the home?
  • How will the children handle multiple owners now? How would they handle ownership upon their own divorce or death?
  • Who will pay the property taxes?
  • Who will ensure upkeep?

One option might have been an estate-planning provision requiring the home be sold, with the first rights to buy given to the children. Or maybe the home could have been left to one or more children, and other assets left to other children to equalize inheritances. Maybe they could have established a trust in order to fund perpetual care of the home, and to manage generational ownership.

These considerations and others in the estate planning process might have allowed the children to preserve both their wealth and their legacy.

A significant amount of wealth is transferred through real estate. According to a 2014 study by Credit Suisse and Brandeis University’s Institute on Asset and Social Policy, the primary residence represents 31% of total assets for the top 5% of wealthy black families in the U.S. and 22% for the wealthiest white Americans. The percentage of wealth embodied in a primary residence is even greater for less well-off households.

Now it’s up to my aunts and uncles to get it right for the next generation. Will wealth be lost again or will it transfer for the benefit of their descendants? It’s a great question for the next family gathering…at a place to be determined.

———-

Lazetta Rainey Braxton is a certified financial planner and CEO of Financial Fountains. She assists individuals, families, and institutions with achieving financial well-being and contributing to the common good through financial planning and investment management services. She serves as president of the Association of African American Financial Advisors. Braxton holds an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from the Wake Forest University Babcock Graduate School of Management and a BS in finance and international business from the University of Virginia.

MONEY

Shark Tank’s Daymond John Blew His First $20 Million Before Wising Up About Money

The Shark-Daymond John Presents "Xpensive Habits" Lavo Brunch Sponsored By: Jack Daniels, Miller Lite & Evian Water
Jerritt Clark—WireImage Mark Cuban and Daymond John attends The Shark-Daymond John Presents "Xpensive Habits" Lavo Brunch Sponsored By: Jack Daniels, Miller Lite & Evian Water at Lavo on February 14, 2015 in New York City.

The FUBU founder shares what he's learned about investing since then.

On ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Daymond John scrutinizes the business plans of wannabe entrepreneurs, but how does he manage his own finances?

A self-made businessman, John is actually pretty realistic – working his way up many ladders and learning from failures. A native of Queens, New York, John founded FUBU at age 23 in 1992, riding the wave of hip-hop fashion trends.

Now 46, he has been with “Shark Tank” since its debut in 2009. He serves as a consultant, gives motivational speeches, writes books and is a spokesman for other businesses, such as Gillette.

Reuters spoke with John about how his acumen for business translates to managing his own money:

Q: How much of your net worth is locked away for the future, and how much is at your disposal now?

A: I’ve probably put in 50 percent for long-term, and the rest I play with. I have squirreled away enough to not have to worry about it. Hopefully, I’ll never have to touch it, and it will be passed onto my kids or a great organization.

What I play with now, it can fluctuate. I can end up using a good percentage of it on a great acquisition, or I can hold it.

Q: How involved are you in the management of that money?

A: There are several levels of it. I’m involved when I’m doing my day-trading. When we’re talking about asset allocation, I have very different approaches. I’m with Goldman (Sachs) and various other firms. I kind of let three out of five of them do their own thing. For two out of five, I monitor (my account) over the course of every month or so.

Q: Most of what you do on ‘Shark Tank’ can be considered alternate investments, but do you do anything beyond that to diversify your portfolio?

A: My larger investments have been apparel brands. As for real estate, I’m part of a fund, but I’ve never been that great at real estate.

Q: When you do a promotion like for Gillette’s Shave Club, do you have an investment in that, or is it just for promotion?

A: It’s a brand association. It’s just an investment of my time and my face and my integrity. I don’t take it lightly.

Q: You lend your name to a lot of causes as well. How do you decide what charities get your time and money?

A: It’s not really a planned thing. I try to give on various platforms, and not do too much check-book philanthropy. For some, I will try to make more people aware of the plight, and help get more people to give. To some I will dedicate time, such as my desire to get out word about dyslexia.

Q: Do you have planned giving worked into your estate plan?

A: I don’t have that formal plan – some will go to family and certain small organizations. One is animal related, one is dyslexia, one is hip-hop against violence.

Q: Who first taught you about finance and money management?

A: I got the knowledge by blowing about $20 to $30 million the first time I made it. I’m not one of the few who hit lotto or peaked at 25 as an athlete. I have had several other bites at the apple.

Q: You have listed Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” as one of your favorite books. What have you learned from it?

A: The fundamental lesson to it is it’s not how much you make, it’s how much you save. You should go after small opportunities that have the potential to grow into large opportunities. That educated me on the tool of money.

MONEY financial advisers

The 3 Biggest Money Worries of First-Time Parents

first time parents
Ashley Gill—Getty Images

Good news, explains a financial planner: They're easily addressed.

Over the last 13 years I’ve worked with countless millennials preparing to embark on their journey to parenthood. First-time parents are concerned about many things, starting with feeding their newborn, keeping the little one healthy, or just sleeping through the night (for both parent and baby).

Amid the whirlwind of emotions a single parent or couple may go through leading into the birth of their first child, I’ve found that first-time parents all find themselves confronting the same three financial questions:

  1. How will we afford this baby?
  2. How will we pay for college?
  3. What if something happens to us?

As a financial adviser, I often find myself counseling first-time parent trying to process it all. The great news is that all three of these questions can be answered with a little bit of planning.

1. How will we afford this baby?
You can count on new and unexpected expenses with your little one on the way. Many of my new-parent clients have found that three of the most significant expenses in the first year are daycare, diapers, and baby food. By increasing your monthly contributions to a liquid investment savings account, you can get a head start on changing your spending habits and begin to prepare for costs you know are coming.

2. How will we pay for college?
College is getting more expensive every year. If you want to put your money to work, start saving early and take advantage of time and compound returns. A 529 college savings plan offers you 100% federal tax-free growth for qualified higher-education expenses. (State tax advantages vary from state to state and may depend on whether you are a resident of the state sponsoring the plan.) As the parent, you retain complete control of the assets. To help bolster their child’s college fund, many parents encourage family and friends to contribute to their child’s 529 plan instead of giving toys or other presents for major events like birthdays and graduations.

3. What if something happens to us?
It probably isn’t going to hit you in the first trimester, or maybe even the second, but it’s a realization so many parents reach by the time their newborn comes home to the nursery: What if something happens to us? Most new parents have never had to sit down and plan for contingencies like death. But the moment you have someone depending on you — both financially and emotionally — for the next 20-plus years, it hits you: “I need a plan.” For many, this plan has two major pieces that ultimately answer two questions:

a. Who will take care of my baby? An estate planning attorney can help you gather information and consider some important issues designed to protect your family. Through your estate plan you can dictate guardianship instructions for your baby, control over the distribution of your assets, and medical directives.
b. Who will pay all my baby’s expenses? Life insurance can provide your child, or your child’s guardian, with a lump sum payout upon your death. Term life insurance is typically the least expensive, and thus the most common, option; you pay a set amount each month over a certain number of years, and in turn are guaranteed a death benefit should you die during that term. The policy’s lump sum payout can help your beneficiaries cover the costs you would have otherwise paid.

By starting your planning early, you can set aside the extra cash you’ll need when your family’s newest addition arrives, split the college bill with your old pal “compound returns,” and prepare for the unthinkable. Once you have these pieces in place, you’ll have your mind clear to focus on what is most important — your family. (And your sleep.)

Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY retirement planning

This Popular Financial Advice Could Ruin Your Retirement

two tombstones, one saying $-RIP
iStock

The notion of "dying broke" continues to appeal to many Americans. That's too bad, since the strategy is ridiculously flawed.

You may have heard of the phrase “Die Broke,” made popular by the bestselling personal finance book of the same name published in 1997. The authors, Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine, argue that you should basically spend every penny of your wealth because “creating and maintaining an estate does nothing but damage the person doing the hoarding.” Saving is a fool’s game, they claim, while “dying broke offers you a way out of your current misery and into a place of joy and happiness.”

I love a good contrarian argument, but for whom did this plan ever make sense? Perhaps people like Bill Gates who have so much money that they decide to find charitable uses for their vast fortune. But for the rest of us, our end-of-life financial situation isn’t as nearly pretty, and we’re more likely to be in danger of falling short than dying with way too much.

In a recent survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 20.6% of people who died at ages 85 or older had no non-housing assets and 12.2% had no assets left at all when they passed away. If you are single, your chances of running out of money are even higher—24.6% of those who died at 85 or older had no non-housing assets left and 16.7% had nothing left at all.

Now, perhaps some of those people managed to time their demise perfectly to coincide when their bank balance reached zero, but it’s more likely that many of them ran out of money before they died, perhaps many years before.

And yet the “Die Broke” philosophy seems to have made significant headway in our culture. According to a 2015 HSBC survey of 16,000 people in 15 countries, 30% of American male retirees plan to “spend it all” rather than pass wealth down to future generations. (Interestingly, only 17% of women said that they planned to die broke.)

In terms of balancing spending versus saving, only 61% of men said that it is better to spend some money and save some to pass along, compared to 74% of women. Perhaps that’s why, as a nation, only 59% of working age Americans expect to leave an inheritance, compared to a global average of 74%.

There are so many things wrong with this picture. The first is that Pollan and Levine’s formula of spending for the rest of your life was predicated on working for the rest of your life. “In this new age, retirement is not only not worth striving for, it’s impossible for most and something you should do you best to avoid,” they wrote. Saving for retirement is certainly hard, and I don’t believe that all gratification should be delayed, but working just to spend keeps you on the treadmill in perpetuity.

Besides, even if some of us say we’re going to keep working all our lives, that decision is usually dictated by our employer, our health and the economy. Most of us won’t have the choice to work forever, and the data simply don’t support a huge wave of people delaying retirement into their 70s and 80s. And as I have written before, I don’t buy into the current conventional wisdom that planning for a real retirement is irrational.

But perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the “Die Broke” philosophy is that it takes away the incentive to our working life—to get up in the morning and do your best every day, knowing that it’s getting you closer to financial security—and the satisfaction that goes with it. In the end, I believe what will bring us the most happiness is not to die rich, or die broke, but to die secure.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

Read next: This Retirement Saving Mistake Could Cost You $43,000

MONEY Estate Planning

This Is When You Actually Need to Make a Will

150508_FF_WhenWill
Justin Horrocks—Getty Images

The simple answer will surprise you.

If there is one thing we need to get done before we die, it’s making a will, but you probably won’t find it on anyone’s bucket list. A lot of us never get around to it. In fact, more than half of Americans between 55 and 64 (presumably at or close to retirement) are without wills, according to a survey by Rocket Lawyer.

What that means is when they die, the state where they live will determine how their assets will be divided. (And if they are parents of minor children, the state may also decide who will raise them.)

Jim Blankenship of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill., said the arrival of a first child is often what prompts couples to make a will. The desire to choose a guardian then leads to considering how the chosen person will fund the raising of the child. The other impetus for writing a will may come when a close friend or family member dies unexpectedly.

But it’s clear from the statistics that many of us either think we don’t need wills or that we’ll do it later. The real answer to when you need a will is when you have obligations or assets, Blankenship said. If, for example you’re just starting out and you used a co-signer to get a loan, if something happens to you, your co-signer is most likely on the hook for your debt. Or if you have children, then you have someone who depends on you. You’ll want to be sure you have insurance and a will to take care of them.

Homeownership can also prompt people to make wills, Blankenship said. In most cases, a home is both an asset and an obligation, and it should be included in a will.

For the very simplest wills, Blankenship said the kit type you can buy online or at an office supply store is probably adequate. You’ll need to be sure you get the version for your state. For more complicated situations (say, a second marriage, a business or more complex assets), you probably will want legal advice, he said. And remember that some assets can be passed to heirs outside a will — 401(k)s, IRAs, insurance benefits, “just about anything that has a beneficiary,” Blankenship said.

Will kits can walk you through making a will, step by step. The biggest mistake you can make, Blankenship said, is putting it off. The second-biggest, one he sometimes sees with his own pre-retirement clients, is failing to update it as life circumstances change, which is a great time to revisit your beneficiaries.

More from Credit.com:

MONEY Estate Planning

Military Families: Does the Government Owe You a Bunch of Money?

father in military holding baby
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Surviving spouses or children of deceased military members could be owed benefits.

After a veteran dies, he or she technically no longer has a claim to disability benefits. However, there are certain circumstances in which a widow, widower or surviving child may be entitled to accrued benefits — or money — from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, it’s worth looking into.

If you’re a surviving spouse or child, here are the circumstances in which you would be eligible to file for benefits:

1. There was a disability claim pending at the time of the veteran’s death. If the VA failed in its duty to assist the veteran in developing the claim, an accrued benefits claim should be filed. For example: The VA failed to send out a letter requesting medical evidence to support the veteran’s claim.

2. A previously denied claim had new medical evidence in the VA claims file before the veteran died. For example, let’s say the VA did not “rate” the veteran’s medical report. The rating is a formal legal document that is used to assess the claim and contains the following: the benefit being claimed, the evidence in support of the claim, the decision (either a grant or denial), and the reasons and bases justifying the decision. You have one year after the date of notice of a grant or denial of the claim to file an appeal – or, a notice of disagreement. In that time, the claim is still considered pending.

3. A claim of clear and unmistakable error (CUE) was pending at the time of the veteran’s death. For example, the veteran may claim the VA made an error in the decision to deny benefits. Specifically, he or she may contend that VA overlooked an important medical report.

4. A veteran’s appeal on a denied disability claim was pending at death. In this case, you may be eligible for those benefits.

5. The claim must be filed within one year after the veteran died. A claim sent to the Social Security Administration for survivor benefits for the widow or veteran’s children is also considered a claim for VA survivor benefits.

A VA disability rating prepared prior to the veteran’s death can be used, but only for accrued purposes. In other words, the rating decision is necessary to establish the veteran’s rate of benefits for the month of death for payment to the surviving spouse.

To apply for accrued benefits, a surviving spouse should file VA Form 21-534 [(Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child (Including Death Compensation if Applicable)]. If the only benefit claimed is an accrued amount, VA Form 21-601, Application for Accrued Amounts Due a Deceased Beneficiary, may be used.

Just because a veteran dies, the claim does not necessarily die with them. A veteran’s beneficiary should file a VA Form 21-534 or VA Form 21-601 to make a determination of accrued benefits. It costs you nothing to see if you are entitled to any money.

If you feel the VA denied your claim unfairly, you should file what is called a notice of disagreement. This is the first stage of the appeals process. From here, you can go it alone, or ask a service representative (with the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans Charity, etc.) to assist you with the paperwork.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Pick an Appraiser to Value Your Heirlooms or Collectibles

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “I inherited quite a large stamp collection. I am sure there are a few valuable ones in there, but aside from quitting my job to spend eight hours a day sorting through them one at a time, what are my options for getting it appraised?” — Russell, Melbourne, Fla.

A: The key thing you need to beware of when seeking out an expert to value an heirloom is conflict of interest: You don’t want the person evaluating your property to have an active interest in purchasing it.

So rather than simply walking into any antique shop or auction house and asking for an appraisal, instead hire a certified appraiser. You’re more likely to get a fair judgement from such an individual because it’s a violation of his or her professional ethics to offer to buy an item he has been hired to appraise.

You can find a certified appraiser in your area specializing in stamps—or any other type of collectible, antique or valuable—via the websites of the three major appraiser organizations: International Society of Appraisers, American Society of Appraisers, or Appraisers Association of America. Each member’s profile should list his or her certification level and background in appraising property similar to yours.

Appraisers might charge a flat fee or an hourly rate starting at $150, says Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg, president of the International Society of Appraisers. (You should avoid those who charge a fee based on a percentage of the item’s value.) Depending on location and the level of expertise your property requires, the total bill may be $400 or more.

For that fee, you’ll get a written report that includes the object’s value, the procedure used to estimate this, and a full description of the item.

Be aware that an item can have different values for different purposes: For insurance, you need to know its retail value, or what it would cost today to purchase. For selling, you need the fair-market value or what a buyer would pay you. For estate tax, you would need the fair market value as well.

If your item has a minimal value and doesn’t require a full written appraisal, Charleston-Rosenberg says she and the vast majority of appraisers will tell you it’s not worth the fee to appraise.

“An honorable appraiser will turn away a project when an object is not worth it,” says Charleston-Rosenberg.

Often by calling an appraisal office, you can get a rough idea of whether to pursue a full consultation. Charleston-Rosenberg says she knows of appraisers who request an emailed image of an heirloom to determine if their services are actually needed.

Because your heirloom is not a single object but a larger collection, however, you will probably need to have an appraiser view the stamps in person.

More from Money 101:

Do I need an accountant to do my taxes?

What if I need more time to file my taxes?

How do you know if it makes sense to itemize?

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