How Does Cryptocurrency Work in an Estate Plan?

Crypto-assets, including cryptocurrencies and non-currency blockchain tokens, hold significant family wealth today and present challenges to securing, transferring, protecting and gifting, as explained in the article “What Holding Crypto Means for Your Estate Plan” from U.S. News & World Report.

Traditional estate planning is evolving to include this new asset class, as digital asset investors embrace a market worth more than $1 trillion. Experienced investors who use digital assets to expand their asset diversification are more likely to understand the importance of protecting their investment through estate planning. However, first time investors who own a small amount of cryptocurrency or the early adapters who bought Bitcoins at the very start and now are worth millions, may not be as aware of the importance of digital asset estate planning.

Unlike traditional bank accounts, controlled through a centralized banking system and a legacy system of reporting, digital assets are by their very nature decentralized. An owner has access through a private key, usually a series of numbers and letters known only to the asset’s owner and stored in a digital wallet. Unless an executor knows about digital wallets and what a private key is and how to use them, the assets can and often do evaporate.

It can be challenging for executors to obtain access to traditional accounts, like 401(k)s or brokerage accounts. Mistakes are made and documents go astray, even in straightforward estates. In a new asset class, with new words like private keys, seed phrases, hardware wallets and more, the likelihood of a catastrophic loss increases.

A last will and testament is necessary for every estate. It’s needed to name an executor, a guardian for minor children and to set forth wishes for wealth distribution. However, a will becomes part of the public record during court proceedings after death, so it should never include detailed information, like bank account numbers. The same goes for information about cryptocurrency. Specific information in a will can be used to steal digital assets.

Loved ones need to know the crypto-assets exist, where to find them and what to do with them. Depending on the amount of the assets and what kind of assets are held, such information needs to be included and addressed in the estate plan.

If the assets are relatively small and owned through an exchange (Coinbase, Biance, or Kraken are a few examples), it is possible to list the crypto asset on a schedule of trust assets and ensure that the trustee has all the login information and knows how to access them.

For complex cases with significant wealth in digital assets, establishing a custodian and trustee may be necessary. A plan must be created that establishes both a custodian and trustee of digital assets. Steps include sharing private keys with a family member or trusted friend or splintering the private keys among multiple trusted individuals, so no one person has complete control.

This new asset class is here for the foreseeable future, and as more investors get involved with cryptocurrency, their estate plan needs to address and protect it.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Oct. 5, 2021) “What Holding Crypto Means for Your Estate Plan”

How to Manage a Will and Trust

A last will and testament is used to point out the beneficiaries and trustees and the legal professionals you want to be involved with your estate when you have passed, explains this recent article What You Need To Know About Handling a Will and Trust from Your Dearly Departed Loved One” from North Forty News. If there are minor children in the picture, the last will is used to direct who will be their guardians.

A trust is different than the last will. A trust is a legal entity where one person places assets in the trust and names a trustee to be in charge of the assets in the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries. The assets are legally protected and must be distributed as per the instructions in the trust document. Trusts are a good way to reduce paperwork, save time and reduce estate taxes.

Don’t go it alone. If your loved one had a last will and trust, chances are they were prepared by an estate planning lawyer. The estate planning attorney can help you go through the legal process. The attorney also knows how to prepare for any possible disputes from relatives.

It may be more complicated than you expect. There are times when honoring the wishes of the deceased about how their property is distributed becomes difficult. Sometimes, there are issues between the beneficiaries and the last will and trust custodians. If you locate the attorney who was present at the time the last will was signed and the trusts created, she may be able to make the process easier.

Be prepared to get organized. There’s usually a lot of paperwork. First, gather all of the documents—an original last will, the death certificate, life insurance policies, marriage certificates, real estate titles, military discharge papers, divorce papers (if any) and any trust documents. Review the last will and trust with an estate planning attorney to understand what you will need to do.

Protect personal property and assets. Homes, boats, vehicles and other large assets will need to be secured to protect them from theft. Once the funeral has taken place, you’ll need to identify all of the property owned by the deceased and make sure they are property insured and valued. If a home is going to be empty, changing the locks is a reasonable precaution. You don’t know who has keys or feels entitled to its contents.

Distribution of assets. If there is a last will, it must be filed with the probate court and all beneficiaries—everyone mentioned in the last will has to be notified of the decedent’s passing. As the executor, you are responsible for ensuring that every person gets what they have been assigned. You will need to prepare a document that accounts for the distribution of all properties, which the court has to certify before the estate can be closed.

Taking on the responsibility of finalizing a person’s estate is not without challenges. An estate planning attorney can help you through the process, making sure you are managing all the details according to the last will and the state’s laws. There may be personal liability attached to serving as the executor, so you’ll want to make sure to have good guidance on your side.

Reference: North Forty News (Feb. 3, 2021) What You Need To Know About Handling a Will and Trust from Your Dearly Departed Loved One”

I’ve Inherited an IRA – Now, What about Taxes?

Inheriting an IRA comes with several constraints. As a result, it can be tricky to navigate. You are at an intersection of tax planning, financial planning and estate planning, says Bankrate’s article “7 inherited IRA rules all beneficiaries must know.” There are a number of choices for you to make, depending upon your situation. How can you figure out what to do?

Whatever your situation, do NOT cash out the IRA, or roll it into a non-IRA account. Doing this could make the entire IRA taxable as regular income. Do nothing until you have the right advisors in place. For most people, the best step is to find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with inherited IRAs.

Here’s what you need to know:

The rules are different for spouses. A spouse heir of an IRA can do one of three things:

  • Name himself as the owner and treat the IRA as if it was theirs;
  • Treat the IRA as if it was his, by rolling it into another IRA or a qualified employer plan, including 403(b) plans;
  • Treat himself as the beneficiary of the plan.

Each of these actions may create additional choices for the spousal heir. For example, if a spouse inherits the IRA and treats it as his own, he may have to start taking required minimum distributions, depending on his age.

“Stretch” or choose the 5-year rule. Non-spouse heirs have two options:

  • Take distributions over their life expectancy, known as the “stretch” option, which leaves the funds in the IRA for as long as possible, or
  • Liquidate the entire account within five years of the original owner’s death. That comes with a hefty tax burden.

Congress is considering legislation that may eliminate the stretch option, but the proposed law has not been passed as of this writing. The stretch option is the golden ticket for heirs, letting the IRA grow for years without being liquidated and having to pay taxes. If the IRA is a Roth IRA, taxes were paid before the money went into the account.

Non-spouse beneficiaries need to act promptly, if they want to take the stretch option. There is a cutoff date for taking the first withdrawal, depending upon whether the original account owner was over or under 70 ½ years old.

There are year-of-death distribution requirements. If the original owner has taken his or her RMD in the year that they died, the beneficiary needs to make sure the minimum distribution has been taken.

There might be a tax break. For estates subject to the federal estate tax, inheritors of an IRA may get an income-tax deduction for the estate taxes paid on the account. The taxable income earned (but not received by the deceased individual) is “income in respect of a decedent.”

Make sure the beneficiary forms are properly filled out. This is for the IRA owners. If a form is incomplete, doesn’t name a beneficiary or is not on record with the custodian, the beneficiary may be stuck with no option but the five-year distribution of the IRA.

A poorly drafted trust can sink the IRA. If a trust is listed as a primary beneficiary of an IRA, it must be done correctly. If not, some custodians won’t be able to determine who the qualified beneficiaries are, in which case the IRS’s accelerated distribution rules for IRAs will be required. Work with an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the rules for leaving IRAs to trusts.

Reference: Bankrate (Nov. 19, 2019) “7 inherited IRA rules all beneficiaries must know.”