Estate Planning and Cybercurrency – Taking Proper Care of Invisible Assets

Estate Planning and Cybercurrency – Taking Proper Care of Invisible Assets

Stop the presses: I nearly had a good idea.

In researching this article, I discovered how expensive it is to buy a piece of the best of the new cybercurrencies. But one thing is relatively simple, it turns out: inventing your own.

“They have a word for that in the market,” said a former colleague in finance, a Londoner who specializes in estate planning and now works in Baltimore. I cut-and-pasted this boilerplate from one of my articles; my old mate had read it, was relieved I hadn’t given his name. I don’t think Trevor understands what I do, and he’s never looked at me straight since he watched me eat those three shawarmas at a seedy stand on Leicester Square.

What’s the word from Baltimore-berg, I asked? “Me, I call it ‘bitecoin’.” Forsooth, why? “Because it’s more polite than ‘shitecoin’.” An aristocratic heritage always shines through.

We may disdain Trevor’s dockside language, yet in the US financial industry, ‘shitcoin’ is the acceptable nomenclature for the many ‘junk’ cybercurrencies flooding the market.

I do apologize; I was raised better than this stooping to gutter talk. In high school, my mother saw me examining pictures of medieval tapestries, part of the curriculum. “Those look pretty. What are they?” That’s an Arras, I answered, proud to know something.

“Watch your language,” said mum, sufficiently straight-faced to fool me at 15. Still, I don’t use that quad-letter lingo, unless the Yankees are showing off or the Celtics are breaking my heart.

If you bought Bitcoin when it was worth less than a kebab, you did good. There’s a few other cybers worth more than their nano-weight: Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Cardano, Dogecoin – whoops, hang on. There’s a problem right there.

I know something about Dogecoin, as my business partner, Davíd, wrote a cogent little piece about it for Robb Report. “Dogecoin was never intended to be a legitimate digital store of value,” writes D – it was all a big joke, inspiring my own merde-like gambit, yet it’s a valuable commodity today, a real feat for something that doesn’t tangibly exist.

Dogecoin’s inventors took the sellout powder long ago. This recalls the case of king Bitcoin’s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto. He popped up like Poppins in 2008, signed off his screen in 2011, and left the store to his partner, who’d never met him.

Satoshi’s Bitcoin holding is worth $60 billion today. This individual, assuming that’s what he is, and not an Ernst Stavro Blofeld clone at a foreign intelligence service, has been missing for almost a decade. How is this possible? He’s nearly as ghostly as his ethereal creation.

I don’t trust Bitcoin – admittedly, a curious thing to say about something worth $1.35 trillion, more than some countries; it’s not exactly a pile of horse-hockey. Maybe it’s paranoia, but I don’t trust an asset that willing investors can’t fathom when I ask them to explain it.

One of Bitcoin’s chief supporters, and I won’t start trouble by naming him – he has a nose ring and a beard off a dead Confederate general – just commented that cybercurrency could foster ‘world peace’. This is so inane, he’s either cracked in the China cupboard or [expletive] hiding something, in my humble O. His sermon drove Bitcoin’s price higher; his audience’s credulity is profitable.

Let’s ask Rebecca, my sedate editor and a bona fide investment professional, what she thinks – I cribbed her essay on Bitcoin’s history just now. “I think it’s here to stay, but I wouldn’t invest in it. It’s based on nothing; it’s value is completely driven by sentiment, which explains its volatility. I’m happy no government regulators are sticking their greedy little paws into it or tossing in clogs, but how long will that last?”

She’s signaled my own concern: these ‘unregulatable’ assets are surely on the agenda of a globally meddlesome party or two.

Doubt me? Riddle yourself this: the US and EU are today ‘reaching out’ to coordinate their financial compliance and corporate tax systems. Working in Singapore, I found the Dodd-Frank Act drove mountains of paperwork, soporific mandatory training sessions, and tortuous compliance reporting. US law isn’t technically enforceable overseas, but in this case and others, if you want to do business in America, rigorous compliance is de rigueur.

When a mighty chef wants a pot vigorously stirred, watch out for the rising steam. I don’t expect cryptocurrencies to stay ‘free’ forever.

And yet, there they are: a valuable asset in some weighty estates. Now, what unique problems do cryptocurrencies pose for estate planners and clients?

The primary trouble is simple: record keeping. It’s not a new problem, as many estates suffer from poor asset cataloging. In the digital age, logins and passwords for bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts et al are often missing from planning records. We’ve been hectored for decades to keep passwords secure, which has trained us for precisely the wrong behavior when it comes to passing our digital wealth on to heirs.

Accessing cryptocurrency accounts is notoriously awkward. There are multiple, long-winded passwords, confirmation tokens, codewords (don’t use ‘shitecoin’, too easy to guess) and so on. Oh, hand me a pill.

My Baltimore contact – Trevor’s his name, did I mention? – has a personal Bitcoin account, the bowler-hatted smart aleck, so he talked me through it. What a mega-bore chore. He’s written a ‘user’s manual’, though, tested it carefully, stored it with his estate team and the attorney who scratched up his will. For such a light eater, Trev’s a surprisingly solid old thinker.

These days, you can find estate planners and lawyers who specialize in cataloging digital assets, with cybercurrency in focus. There are online guides to get one started, but the caretaking skills of these experts are irreplaceable to anyone who owns significant online holdings.

Digi-assets extend past cybercurrencies and the online banking and investment accounts we’ve all acquired. Even gaming accounts with no literal value – like the cybers themselves – are highly prized in some families, and anxiously, if not greedily awaited by prospective heirs.

My nephew Jake still demands: I want Nana’s Bible, your old Leica camera, and your Zombie Massacre III account; my gunship is indeed invincible. J-Doge, rest easy: it’s in the will. After I’m gone, you’ll recall me fondly as you mow down the undead for decades to come.

You can trust me, readers, for I am fully corporeal: a joyous legacy like this doesn’t simply happen – it requires meticulous planning.

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