The Basics of Cryptocurrency and How to Leave it in Your Will the Right Way
Author: Patrick Hicks, Head of Legal with Trust & Will
Cryptocurrency is a relatively new phenomenon and as such, leaving cryptocurrency in a will is somewhat uncharted territory. If you’re one of many who have purchased Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance and the like, you might be wondering how you should work it into your estate plan. Know that simply gifting bitcoin isn’t effective. You also have to make sure that your beneficiaries will know how to find and access the cryptocurrency you bequeathed to them.
What is Cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is a class of digital money that is protected by blockchain technology. Blockchain is a decentralized system that stores financial transaction data in such a way that can’t be changed, hacked, or cheated. Cryptocurrency is independent from any type of central bank or governance.
This independence and security are elements that have made cryptocurrency immensely popular. Although it can be used today to facilitate some internet transactions, most individuals are investing in it for the future. There is much speculation that one day, cryptocurrency will become mainstream and thus more valuable.
Types of Cryptocurrency
According to Investopedia.com, there are currently over 4,000 different cryptocurrencies in existence. Although other forms of crypto have risen in popularity, Bitcoin has held its position as pack leader for a long time. Any other currencies are often referred to as “altcoins.”
Here are some of today’s most popular cryptocurrencies:
Bitcoin (CRYPTO: BTC)
Ethereum (CRYPTO: ETH)
Binance Coin (CRYPTO: BNB)
Cardano (CRYPTO: ADA)
Difference Between Cryptocurrency and Traditional Money or Assets
Unlike traditional money, cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation. It’s an asset that can only be used in the digital space. For security reasons, cryptocurrency can’t be accessed unless you hold the private key, which is typically stored in a digital wallet.
Cryptocurrency can be included as a part of an estate plan along with other assets such as money, property, and personal belongings. However, because of its secure nature, gifting bitcoin or an altcoin requires extra steps.
For example, the transfer of real estate merely requires some paperwork and making sure your beneficiary can get a copy of the key. However, when bequeathing cryptocurrency, you need to find a way for your beneficiary to locate and access your private key without giving up your security.
What Happens to Cryptocurrency When You Die?
Without its private key, there is no way to access a crypto asset. That means that if you die without leaving a way for someone to locate and access the private key, your cryptocurrency will essentially be lost in the digital ether. Although the asset will remain in your possession, and your private will remain a part of the cryptography, it will be lost and inaccessible. That’s why adding cryptocurrency into your estate plan matters.
The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, more easily referred to as RUFADAA, is a law that provides the Executor of an Estate, digital fiduciary or an attorney, with access to someone’s online accounts after death or incapacitation. While most states have passed a RUFADAA law, the definition of what qualifies as a digital asset or electronic communication varies state to state. That’s why it’s so important to leave behind clear instructions regarding your digital assets in your estate plan.
Why Adding Cryptocurrency into your Estate Plan Matters
Including any cryptocurrency you own into your estate plan, such as a Will or Trust, is the only surefire way to ensure your beneficiaries will have access. This holds true for any other type of digital asset as well.
By using your estate plan, you will provide the legal right and necessary instructions so that your cryptocurrency and private key information will be transferred into the ownership of your beneficiaries. It’s a powerful tool to pass on your private key information upon your death, without compromising your security and privacy in the present.
How Cryptocurrency Works for Your Beneficiaries in a Will
When you pass away, your executor will distribute property and assets to your named beneficiaries, per the instructions you left behind in your Will. If you have any cryptocurrency you’d like to bequeath to a loved one, then you’ll need to include a cryptocurrency provision.
In this provision, you should specify which cryptocurrencies and the number of shares you own. In addition, you’ll leave information on how to access your private key and thus your digital wallet that holds your cryptocurrency.
Where to Leave Your Private Key Information
First and foremost, know that you should never share your private key directly. This presents a risk in which the key falls into the wrong hands, leaving your cryptocurrency exposed for the taking. Just as you would never share your personal email username and password, don’t share your private key.
Instead, it is recommended to create a cryptocurrency access guide. This may require some creativity on your part, to come up with a way for your beneficiary to obtain the key. First, you’ll need to include information for locating your online digital wallet accounts and usernames. Second, you’ll need to include instructions on how to obtain the private key itself.
Some might choose to write down the key on a piece of paper and store it in a bank vault or safe-deposit box. Others might choose to use a service, such as a cryptocurrency bank or multi-signature wallet that allows loved ones to access an account in the case of a death.
Regardless of how you decide to go about it, write your access guide as if your beneficiary has no idea what cryptocurrency is, or that you even owned any of it. The more details and instructions you provide, the more helpful it will be to them one day.
Types of Cryptocurrency Wallets
Before you begin to invest in cryptocurrency, you’ll want to decide what kind of wallet to store it in. These are called digital wallets, or cryptocurrency wallets, and are what you use to buy, sell, and store cryptocurrency. There are two main types of digital wallets: hot wallets and cold wallets.
Hot wallets must be connected to the Internet. These are easier to access, but they’re also less secure because they’re more susceptible to fraud and other types of cyber-attacks. While they’re more user-friendly, be sure to consider the risk that’s involved.
Cold wallets are a better choice if you’re interested in better security. These wallets are designed for “cold storage,” meaning that they are offline. The key difference between hot and cold wallets are whether or not they are available online. It’s best to pick the option that best suits your accessibility and security needs.
Estate Planning and Cryptocurrency Considerations
Leaving cryptocurrency in a will can be a little tricky when compared to traditional types of assets. That’s because cryptocurrencies are protected by private keys, which are typically 64 characters in length. Because you don’t want to compromise your security by sharing your private key directly, it takes some planning and creativity. As a part of your estate planning, it is highly recommended that you create a cryptocurrency access guide for your loved ones, so that they’ll know exactly how to benefit from the gifts that they’ve received.
Patrick Hicks, Head of Legal at Trust & Will
Hicks serves as Trust & Will’s General Counsel overseeing all attorney-related operations, including regulatory efforts and legal affairs. As a seasoned estate planning attorney, Patrick brings over a decade of knowledge and real-life taxation law experience to our service offerings. Previously, Patrick practiced law in the trusts and estates practice group of law firm Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP. He holds a J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, and an LL.M in Taxation from the University of San Diego.
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