Crypto Estate Planning
As trading cryptocurrencies becomes increasingly popular, the risk that investors die without a plan to pass on their assets rises. Crypto estate planning is a way to protect and pass on your crypto capital after you die. This article explains what crypto estate planning is, why it’s important, and how to put a plan in place.
What Is Crypto Estate Planning?
Traditional estate planning is concerned with how your assets—usually money in your bank accounts, your property, family treasures—will transfer to others at the time of your death. Generally, wills and trusts play central roles in estate planning.
With more or less all other assets, there is a third party holding the asset that can be subject to court orders. For example, if an asset is excluded from a trust, the error can be corrected by filing a petition with the Probate Court. Unlike physical assets, this option is not available with crypto assets without the owner’s private keys.
If you lose the keys to your house, you can call a locksmith. If you forget the password to your bank account, your bank manager can help you. If you lose the private key to your crypto wallet—a long, randomly generated password that is practically impossible to memorise long-term—your funds could be gone forever. Therefore, unlike traditional assets, crypto fortunes could be trapped on a blockchain indefinitely when you die unless the proper precautions are taken.
In July 2020 Coindesk reported that a Cremation Institute online survey found that only 23% of participating crypto holders had a documented plan for passing on their crypto assets in case of their death. Unsurprisingly, the lack of planning is more prevalent amongst younger generations. Traders Magazine estimated in 2019 that around $30m worth of Bitcoin (BTC) has been lost as a result of people dying without an adequate plan in place.
Why You Might Need Crypto Estate Planning
Crypto estate planning is recommended if you have a lot of cryptocurrency and need to protect your investments. Tomorrow is not promised so if you have a lot to lose, it is important to think ahead. Crypto estate planning is less relevant if you only have a small amount of cryptocurrency.
A high-profile example is that of Matthew Mellon, a descendant from the family behind one of the oldest banks in the United States, BNY Mellon, who transformed an early $2m investment in Ripple (XRP) into a billion-dollar windfall within 10 years. However, when he died unexpectedly at the age of 53, he reportedly left his family without a way to access his crypto riches.
There are two main reasons why crypto estate planning is important. Firstly, it provides for full disclosure of your assets and secondly, it helps ensure a secure method of transferring private keys to your beneficiaries.
Knowledge Of Crypto Assets
One of the challenges of crypto estate planning is that there is no personal information associated with your wallet and no certificate of title, deed, or account statement that proves ownership of cryptocurrency.
As a digital or virtual asset, your cryptocurrency may not be readily identifiable to your beneficiaries. If you have a sizeable amount of crypto, we recommend investing in a hardware wallet such as Trezor or Ledger. Your beneficiaries should know where they can find this as it is likely that your heirs will overlook crypto assets if they do not know about them.
Knowledge Of Crypto Wallet Keys
Accessing wallets requires a public address but the problem arises in that it also requires the investor’s private key. Traders must keep their keys secure when alive, while also providing beneficiaries with the means to find them once they die. When you’re gone, PINs, passwords, and your key will go with you unless you write them down somewhere. Careful planners will make sure to record passwords for accessing online crypto accounts or computer hard drives.
This could be via a detailed letter of instruction to your successor trustee which could be stored in a safety deposit box along with your trusts, or by setting up a mechanical “deadman” switch that transfers Bitcoin upon failure to check-in.
How To Set Up A Crypto Estate Plan
For cryptocurrencies to be transferred to someone else after the owner’s death, they must be both legally transferred and technologically accessible so that the executor of the estate can either transfer it or sell it according to the will. Most people will leave a will or other written instructions to ensure their wealth doesn’t vanish in the event of their death. Here are some tips for setting up your crypto estate plan:
Make A Digital Assets Inventory
The executor of your estate needs to know exactly which assets you hold and how to access them in the event of your death. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has no idea how to access your crypto – what information will they need? Explain the kinds of assets, key locations, and access controls such as PINs, passphrases, or timelock requirements. It is recommended making at least two copies of asset records and storing them in separate locations.
This instruction document can be stored with your will. It is important to make reference in your will to the fact that you’ve provided this information elsewhere but do not put the information in the will itself. Wills can become part of public record during the probate process, which risks leaking your access information.
You should revisit your plan frequently. Your inventory list(s) may be worth updating as often as once per week, particularly for active cryptocurrency investors.
Passing On Your Crypto
- A will – If you have a lot of crypto to protect, it could be worth speaking to a lawyer who understands crypto estate planning. You should also get witnesses (who are not beneficiaries) to sign the will. You can keep your will and instruction document either with a solicitor, bank, or trustworthy custodian.
- Trust – An alternative to passing on your crypto holdings via a will is to leave them in trust. A trust is a method of estate transfer that hands control to a third party when the creator of the trust dies. The third-party, known as the trustee, administers the trust according to the conditions laid out by its founder. Using a trust can be quicker which is helpful when the value of cryptocurrencies can change so quickly.
It’s also possible to create a self-executing will to distribute crypto assets. A smart contract could be executed to transfer digital assets automatically upon notice of your death. This transfer would occur on the blockchain, removing the need to write out any instructions for how to access or transfer tokens and avoiding a potential security risk.
Crypto Estate Planning Solutions
Cryptocurrency companies can be reticent when it comes to outlining their protocols for passing wealth on to next-of-kin. Their caution centres around the fear that fraudsters may find a way to abuse the option. With that said, companies like Coinbase are known to work to recover funds for family members of deceased account holders.
In May 2021 DBS Bank introduced a trust service for cryptocurrencies to allow its private banking customers to integrate them into their wealth succession plans.
Coincover is a cryptocurrency protection and insurance company that announced Cryptocurrency Wills in December 2019. This product is dedicated to solving crypto estate planning and helping executors and beneficiaries to retrieve crypto funds in the event of the owner’s death. Along with BitGo, Coincover acts as the custodian of the backup key and only the two together can unlock a wallet in the event of death.
Coincover’s Cryptocurrency Will Kit can be purchased on Amazon and contains a physical, stainless steel ID card with a unique identity number for the investor and Notification cards with ID numbers for heirs or executor contacts. Coincover has partnered with Harrison Clark Rickerbys, a top 100 UK law firm to enable their clients to supplement their main will with a Cryptocurrency Will. Coincover is FCA approved and backed by several Lloyds of London insurers who agree its crypto estate planning solution is credible and legal.
Anchorage, the US’s first national digital asset bank, has partnered with Two Ocean Trust, a wealth manager in Wyoming, to offer a crypto estate planning solution called COIN Trust. It brings together the benefits of the legal structure of a trust with one of the most secure digital asset custody platforms, offering more protection and security than a will or less formal plan. Anchorage’s biometrics-based technology enables investors to store crypto keys outside of typical cold storage solutions. However currently, Anchorage products exclusively cater to institutional customers.
The obvious downside to crypto estate planning and providing all your information is that if it gets into the wrong hands then your crypto capital could be compromised. You need to choose a safe and secure way of storing the information which can only be accessed by your beneficiaries in the event of your death.
In addition, since cryptocurrencies exist outside of many government regulations, no central body is responsible for losses incurred by scams, theft, or other malfeasance. Other sources of security are needed to insure against losses.
Still, while the law is hurrying to catch up with crypto estate planning, there is room to grow nonetheless. The President of the National College of Probate Judges, Tamara Curry, suggests that courts are going to become more inundated and judges are going to have to be educated and made aware of what to look for when these assets come before them.
Final Word On Crypto Estate Planning
Leaving cryptocurrency to your loved ones after your death requires more planning than with traditional assets. Fortunately, you can simplify the process for your beneficiaries and ensure that they still inherit your coins. You can provide all of the necessary information on your own, or you can consult an estate planning solicitor for help. The important thing is to ensure your loved ones know that you have cryptocurrency and the relevant access information when you pass away.
See our guide to cryptocurrency trading, including the best brokers and exchanges.
What Happens To My Cryptocurrency If I Die?
If an investor dies and their private keys to cryptocurrency wallets are lost, then the assets could be gone forever. This is because blockchains are highly secure and the entire process is decentralised, so there is no way to restore a private key. Crypto estate planning can prevent your assets from disappearing when you die.
Does Bitcoin Go Through Probate?
If you add cryptocurrency to your will, it will go through probate. As wills go through probate, they become part of the public record, so including too much detail, such as the passwords and PINs directly in your will, could create a security issue.
Can You Put Cryptocurrency In A Trust?
To fund a trust with cryptocurrency directly, simply provide the third party or trustee with the passcode or the cold storage device to access and manage the account on behalf of the trust.
Can You Inherit Cryptocurrency?
Yes, you can inherit cryptocurrency but make sure whoever you are due to inherit it from has left explicit instructions (either with you or a trustee). It could be worth seeking professional guidance to make sure you can access funds in the invent of death.
Can I Name A Beneficiary On My Coinbase Account?
Typically, naming a beneficiary on your Coinbase account would be done with your estate planning lawyer. Like most other assets, the ownership of your Coinbase account would be transferred according to your will or other arrangements. It’s not currently possible to name a beneficiary directly within your Coinbase account.