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Cryptocurrency and Wills

Our People - Chryso Loizides
28 January, 2022

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency, sometimes just called ‘crypto’, is any form of currency that exists digitally or virtually and can be bought, spent, saved or sold. Cryptocurrencies are intended to be used for payments, transmitting value (akin to digital money) across a decentralised network of users. Examples of digital currencies include Bitcoin (that I am sure that you heard at some point) and Litecoin Tokens.

Why knowing about cryptocurrency is important?

There’s little doubt that cryptocurrency is the future and is not just a trend. Transactions are fast, digital, secure and worldwide.

Cryptocurrency is stored in a ‘wallet’. Although in a digital format, the digital wallet should be treated the same as a regular wallet; and as in real life, a wallet must be kept secure. Digital wallets can only be accessed by using a ‘private key’. The private key is a secret number that allows people to access and manage their crypto funds. It represents the control and ownership of cryptocurrency and it is only known to the owner of the digital wallet.

Can I include my digital wallet in my Will?

Like any other asset, cryptocurrency can be part of a deceased’s estate and be left in a will to beneficiaries. The easy part is to choose the person to inherit your digital wallet. The difficult part is having the ability to access and transfer it to that person. People tend to protect their digital assets with usernames and passwords; these may be impossible to establish by anyone using conventional methods.

According to a study in 2020 by the Cremation Institute, nearly 90% of all cryptocurrency owners are worried about what will happen to their crypto when they die, but they rarely make provisions for ensuring it is not lost forever.

Be careful with passwords

You should never leave details of your private key in your will. Wills become a matter of public record once probate has been obtained and anyone that knows how crypto works could easily identify your private key and obtain all the crypto before the rightful beneficiary is able to do so.

Therefore, leaving cryptocurrency to your loved ones after your death actually requires more planning than traditional assets (i.e. properties, bank accounts, cash).

Ways to ensure that your beneficiaries will have access to your digital wallet

To ensure that your cryptocurrency assets are accessible by your loved ones on your death and that this does not compromise the safety or security of those assets, you could include your cryptocurrency in your will and create a separate cryptocurrency access guide or digital inventory for your beneficiaries.

To be effective, the access guide needs to be updated regularly and stored securely. It needs to include all passwords to access computing devices, all usernames for online accounts and private keys.

Security of such access guide or inventory is paramount. There are online password manager sites which can help. It is recommended also storing an access guide with your Will held securely by your solicitors.

If you die without leaving a digital inventory but your executors are aware that you held crypto assets, then the executors could arrange for an expert to search your computing devices for any cryptocurrency wallets and account details.

What if I lose capacity and I am unable to update the access guide?

In the event of loss of mental capacity, a Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”) could be put in place. You could consider including explicit authority for your attorney to deal with any crypto assets.

If you would like to know more about the process of securing your crypto assets then please contact a member of our Wills, Trusts and Probate department on 020 8492 2290 or emails us at sols@gnlaw.co.uk.

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