Ever since his untimely death, the press and the public hasn't been able to get enough of Anthony Bourdain. His name caused another commotion this week when his will was probated in New York.
The New York Post’s Page Six headline read “Anthony Bourdain Worth Only $1.21M at the Time of His Death.”
Social media responded immediately as the actual dollar amount just didn’t seem right.
How could Bourdain’s net worth be so much less than the public previously speculated?
While a man’s worth is quite subjective, Bourdain, by all accounts, was an American success story. Though he often admitted that he’d lived paycheck to paycheck well into his 40s, by having an estate valued in excess of $1 million, Bourdain could be considered in the top 3% of all Americans in terms of wealth.
In his case, the estate plan reflected two interesting aspects of the man and what he truly valued.
Estate Planning Is About Protecting Those You Love
Bourdain was thorough in making provisions for his only child as the bulk of his estate will pass to her. While this may have been expected, keep in mind that in 2017 Caring.com found that 60% of all Americans don’t have an estate plan.
For Gen X and Millennials, currently in their child-rearing years, the numbers are even higher at 64% and 78%, respectively.
Bourdain took the right steps to protect the one person he wanted to benefit from his estate. He may have been motivated by the fact that his career required almost constant travel, sometimes to places unknown.
It’s the Miles You Travel That Can Matter in Estate Planning
But the real reflection of the man came in the provision regarding his frequent flyer miles. He left them to his estranged wife to “dispose of in accordance to what she believes to be his wishes.” With a travel record like Bourdain’s, you can only imagine the riches there.
Many people overlook frequent flyer miles, award points and perks when creating their estate plans. We spend a lifetime accruing these awards. It’s impossible to even get through the grocery or drug store without being pitched a reward system.
Passing on your airline points is not as straightforward as completing a beneficiary designation form. Each airline has its own specific policy.
As a result, many estate planners include airline miles and frequent flyer programs in the tangible asset provisions of an estate plan.
But you need to be careful. Paula Leibovitz Goodwin, partner in the Personal Planning Group at Perkins Coie LLP in San Francisco, says, “Loyalty programs are essentially contracts with the airline and you need to review each airline’s contract to see what is possible after death.”
She adds, “You cannot assume all of the contracts are the same. It is possible that the contract is not even assignable, and the airline spells out who the beneficiaries will be.”
Leibovitz Goodwin, who had successfully handled an estate on this issue said, “It seems as if image is important to them and so I would imagine they would want to comply.”
Ultimately Bourdain made the smartest choice he could with his estate plan.
He documented it in his will and designated a specific agent. With this type of documentation, there would be a greater likelihood his points would transfer to the beneficiary of record. In his case, given his professional traveler status, it would be a PR nightmare for any of the airlines to deny his beneficiaries.
Bourdain’s Estate Plan Reflected the Man
We loved Bourdain because he was authentic and curious. But he also knew the value of things that most of us overlooked.
Not many people choose to entertain a sitting U.S. president in Hanoi at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a plastic stool.
In his estate plan, his final message isn’t about bonds and stocks but about continuing to feed one’s curiosity and taking care of those you love. To him, that was perhaps the most valuable legacy he could share. As he once said, “Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move.”