As cryptocurrency grows in value and popularity, it may come as a surprise that leaving your crypto to loved ones requires more planning than traditional assets. Cryptocurrency, unlike other assets, cannot be accessed post-mortem without certain private information. To ensure that your loved ones can inherit and access your cryptocurrency, these assets should be addressed by your estate plan.
To better understand cryptocurrency, we partnered with Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.’s Timothy Hunkele to help us break down the definition. Hunkele and his research team at Hefren-Tillotson define cryptocurrency as “decentralized, digital money, based on the blockchain.” Thousands of cryptocurrencies are in existence today, the most popular of which is Bitcoin. Unlike the centralized payment system used by banks and financial institutions, the decentralized system of Bitcoin “allows people to become their own bank and transact without relying on a third-party.”
Owners access their cryptocurrency through a private key. A private key is a string of numbers and letters, which may be stored in an online wallet or an offline storage device. Without it, one’s crypto is inaccessible and valueless. Additionally, because there is no institution controlling the cryptocurrency, you cannot call customer service to obtain a new private key in the event that yours is lost. Likewise, if your loved ones do not know your private key or how to use it to access your crypto then these assets will be forever lost after your death.
Owners need to balance the need to keep their private key confidential while ensuring that loved ones have the information necessary to gain access to the cryptocurrency. Because a last will and testament, once probated, becomes part of the public record, it should not disclose your private key or any other private information about your assets.
Because your last will and testament identifies the person who will be tasked with gathering and distributing your assets after your death (your “Executor”), you can communicate with him or her now regarding your private key and the location of your crypto-assets. If your estate plan includes a trust, you can share this information with your Trustee. In some cases, it may be advisable to identify the cryptocurrency on a schedule of trust assets or written memorandum to be kept with your estate planning instruments.
It should be noted that while it is important to provide your Executor, Trustee, or Heirs with your private key and instructions for accessing your crypto, this alone may be insufficient without your express authorization to access the computer, phone or other device on which the crypto or account information is stored. Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to include specific language in the will or trust which grants your fiduciary the power to access the relevant devices.
If you do not have estate planning in place, or if your current estate planning does not contemplate your crypto-assets, please feel free contact Anderson & Labovitz at 412-209-3200. Esther Evans will be happy to discuss the process and cost with you and, at a minimum, give you a free consult to discuss the best planning strategies. For more information about our firm, please visit our website at www.PaLawFirm.com.