In the world of estates, there has been a lot of recent discussion about the legal treatment of digital assets post-death (Hull & Hull LLP associate Saman Jaffrey blogged about it last March). Most of this discussion has been focused on the law surrounding the posthumous treatment of websites, social media and email accounts. A recent article, however, has caused me to consider another kind of digital asset: frequent flyer miles.
The article quotes an industry expert as saying 3 trillion frequent flyer miles are accrued by U.S. travellers every year. Translating that figure to the Canadian population…well that’s a lot of miles (or kilometres). With the proliferation of rewards programs, many family members of the deceased now feel that it’s worth the time and effort to engage in the process of obtaining what are often significant assets.
The article goes on to state that most travel and credit card rewards companies allow customers to leave points to beneficiaries in their wills in order to avoid family conflicts and aid executors in their distribution duties. Doing so, however, can create problems like increased legal costs, taxation issues, and unwelcome attention.
When bequeathing rewards points in a testamentary document, you should be aware that all companies that offer loyalty programs have their own restrictions and requirements. Most will require a death certificate, some proof that you are indeed a beneficiary, and confirmation from an executor. Some other companies will only allow certain family members to inherit points. The procedures will differ between each program and company pursuant to their governing contracts.
If you have been fortunate enough to have been left points in somebody’s will, you can do some things to make the transfer process easier. While there is no standard procedure to have points transferred from a deceased’s account, it is wise to have a copy of the death certificate, the deceased’s rewards program account information, and a letter or contact information from the executor of the estate. It also helps to have your own account into which the points can be transferred.
When thinking about your estate plan, make sure to consider these non-traditional/digital assets. Why let them go to waste when you can use them to send a loved one left behind on a much needed vacation or two?
Thanks for reading.