Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the Blockchain — What Happens When You Die? 

 August 11, 2017

By  Pamela Maass Garrett

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Bitcoin. But, you may not know what it is or how it affects your estate planning. Or, maybe you’ve got yourself some Bitcoin, but haven’t given thought to what would happen to your digital currency in the event of your death or incapacity. So, today’s article will dive in with some initial thoughts of what happens to cryptocurrency when you die, and then we’ll get deeper in future articles.

There are now over 800 digital currencies available, though Bitcoin is the most well known.

And each one operates a bit differently, and with a different purpose.

What they all have in common is that they are digital currencies, in the form of “tokens” that you can now buy (or invest in) and in some cases use to exchange for goods and services.

For example, more and more providers of goods and services are accepting Bitcoin as a payment method, just as they would cash or credit.

And, even a few accepting the lesser known currency called Ripple (XRP).

But, as of this writing, there are no providers we’ve heard of accepting, for example, the lesser known cryptocurrency of ProCoin (PROC), a coin based on shopping rewards. But, the coin is tradable on the open coin market, currently at $.12, though it’s been traded as high as $.38.

If you want to learn more about how these digital currencies work, please do let me know and I’ll write more about it in the future.

For today, I want to cover what you need to make sure you’ve got in place from a “what happens when you become incapacitated or die” perspective if you are holding digital currency.

Because if you have not planned for the transfer of your digital currency at the time of your incapacity or death, it could literally be lost to the ethers. And, if you invested in Bitcoin back in the day before it got popular, that could potentially be millions of dollars lost to your loved ones.

There are two things for you to consider if you are holding digital currency

  1. That your loved one’s (or whoever you would want to have your currency) know about it; and
  2. That they know how to access it and cash it in or hold onto it.

If you are holding your currency in an exchange, such as coinbase, with 2-factor authentication, it could be very difficult for your loved one’s to access your currency. We are in process of setting up a digital account administration system for our clients and you can look forward to that in the coming months. Having that in place would allow the executor of your estate to handle all digital accounts, not just crypto accounts.

Until then, best practice is to transfer your cryptocurrency into a “paper wallet”, which is kind of ironic given that it’s a digital currency. And it basically involves storing codes offline that allow you to access your currency. Here’s the thing, if you lose those codes, or your loved ones can’t find them, it’s the same as all of your currency being gone.

You can read more about the different storage options for cryptocurrency here.

Bottom line: if you have cryptocurrency and you want your loved ones to have it after you are gone, you should probably call us so we can make sure it’s not lost upon your incapacity or death.

As a new technology, cryptocurrency can be a bit confusing, and not many lawyers are even thinking about this issue yet. But we are, so give us a call and let’s have a Family Wealth Planning Session during which we can help you to  protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of. Schedule online.

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