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What will happen to your cryptocurrency when you die?

View profile for Leah Woodnott
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What will happen to your cryptocurrency when you die?

I recently read an intriguing BBC News article outlining the difficulties families have when accessing a deceased’s cryptocurrency.

What is cryptocurrency?

  • Cryptocurrency is a type of digital currency and does not have a physical form. 
  • It is widely accepted by members of online communities, such as gamers. 
  • It can be used to buy and sell physical items.
  • It can be transferred between digital wallets.
  • The value of cryptocurrency is on the rise.

How can an executor or administrator access cryptocurrency?

When a person dies, it is their executor or administrator’s role to collect in all the deceased’s assets and pay all their liabilities.

In order to collect in a deceased’s assets, usually an executor or administrator would send proof to the deceased’s bank and financial institutions that the deceased has passed away, together with a Grant and form to either encash or transfer an account.

Cryptocurrency unfortunately does not work in the same way as most financial institutions. Essentially there is a virtual wallet holding the cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency wallet holds the “keys” to enable someone to access and use the currency it holds.

Cryptocurrency has higher levels of security than usual financial institutions and, in the event of a digital wallet being deleted, there is no way of accessing the “keys”. Therefore, an executor or administrator would not be able to encash or transfer any of the currency. 

Research has estimated that up to £22.8 billion has been lost. This is due to the deceased’s loved ones not knowing how to access the currency and not being able to answer the security questions to enable the funds to be encashed or transferred.

What should you do if you have cryptocurrency?

In order to access cryptocurrency, it is essential to keep hold of the wallet and the “keys”.

As the value of cryptocurrency seems to be on the rise, it is important to consider what will happen to your digital assets when you pass away. 

Cryptocurrency is classed as a person’s property. Therefore, when a person dies, the deceased’s property can be distributed in various ways: by their will, the rules of intestacy or on trust.

If you have cryptocurrency, you can leave provision in your will detailing which specific people you would like to inherit your digital assets.  

Given that there are many cases where the currency has not been claimed because executors and administrators cannot access the funds, I would suggest that you also write a side letter to your will.

The side letter should include clear instructions on how to access your currency and any useful information you think your executor should need to know about the cryptocurrency.  This will help speed up the process of your currency being encashed or transferred to your loved ones and ensure that your currency is not lost in the system forever!

If you would like to discuss making a will or amending your current will, please contact our specialist Wills, Trusts and Probate team. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217609 or leah.woodnott@birkettlong.co.uk.

 

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