You may have heard of Cryptocurrencies, a digital currency. Cryptocurrencies have been making headlines lately attracting people to invest in this type of currency. Cryptocurrencies are attractive because they are unregulated, decentralized, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.
When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all of your crypto wealth will disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it. Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless you take action to protect your digital assets with estate planning.
Cryptocurrency is a form of internet currency. Instead of a central bank regulating the funds, encryption techniques are used to regulate the amount or units of currency. These techniques are also used to verify the transfer of funds. In this manner, cryptocurrency can be transferred online without a third party. Some cryptoassets have units that are all the same (called “fungible tokens”). Bitcoin is an example of a fungible token since all bitcoins are the same as one another. Other cryptoassets have unique attributes (called “non-fungible tokens”). Cryptokitties is an example of a nonfungible token since each digital “cat” is unique.
Notably, if you lose the key (i.e., the encryption) to your cryptocurrency, you will be unable to access your digital assets. Thus, making access to your key available to your loved ones upon your death or incapacity is vital to estate planning. This is because if there is no access to the key, there is no access to the assets. Unlike more “traditional” assets, there is no third party to control or compel assets nor reset the key for access to these digital funds. The software or hardware device that holds the keys to your cryptocurrency and manages your transaction is referred to as a “wallet.”
The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your net-worth statement listing all of your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in an absolutely secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.
Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.
The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe.
Digital Asset Estate Planning
It is important to understand that cryptocurrencies are typically a non-listed, non-vetted asset category. In other words – cryptocurrencies are not like publicly traded stocks, which have a vetting process, legal disclosures, and are subject to other requirements. In short, buyer beware when it comes to digital currencies. Therefore, if you own cryptocurrency — or are thinking about investing in digital currency — understand that you will need a technical access plan (a way to ensure your successors can access your digital wealth) in addition to a legal plan in order to effectively create an estate plan that incorporates these digital assets. And because what is going on with digital currency is evolving all the time, and quickly, it is important to touch base with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney at least once a year to make sure you and your family’s needs are being met.
With your crypto assets, the only way these wallets are of any use to your heirs is for them to know where they are and how to access them in the event of your incapacity or death. So make sure these instructions are included in your estate plan and your estate planning lawyer knows about the assets and where to locate the instructions on how to access them. Just as it would be foolish to store your money in a secret safe and not tell anybody where it is or give them the combination to open it, it’s just as foolhardy not to take the appropriate steps to protect your cryptocurrency through proper estate planning.
Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it, but I as an experienced estate planning attorney, you can rest assured I have the knowledge and experience to help you safeguard your digital wealth just as effectively as all of your other assets.
This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Estate Planning and Business Planning Attorney. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.