This month I’m addressing two hot topics in estate planning — cryonics and Bitcoin!
What is cryonics?
Cryonics — having your body cryogenically frozen — seeks to keep either your head (neurocryopreservation) or full body suspended until medical technology advances to the extent that there is a method to revive you in the future. Cryonics vendors already exist and have a price tag on the process itself as well as standby (end-stage care of the human body) and long-term storage. This makes us wonder: what happens when you are actually revived? Will you have the means to have necessary medical procedures performed? The funds or currency to live in an economy of the future? And what happens to your estate after cryonics?
Enter “Cryonic Estate Planning.” (Yes, this is apparently a thing.) Cryonic Estate Planning will use a Personal Revival Trust that lasts in perpetuity, until the grantor is awakened. The market has had to overcome a couple of obstacles, however, in order to make these valid. Many states have a rule against perpetuity, meaning you cannot suspend ownership indefinitely into the future. For example, perpetuities are illegal in some states, except when they support a charitable cause, although many states have recently repealed these laws. There have also been arguments that a trust is invalid without a beneficiary. A common workaround is to name the cryonics vendor as a beneficiary who will be paid from the income of the trust. Or, the cryopreservation company may be named as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy.
So now that there is a way of retaining assets for when you are revived, the question is: how much is going to be enough? And what does “revival” actually mean? Does this include any standard of care afterwards? Transitional services that will acclimate you to future society? Perhaps the very wealthy among us will be able to let us know far, far into the future!
What about Bitcoin?
When people die without an organized account of their assets, it leaves the family trying to piece together clues from paper trails. Now, as a larger and larger portion of our financial lives becomes managed online, assets could be lost in the cosmos if they’re not documented and accounted for.
Let last year’s cautionary tale of the man who lost $127 million in Bitcoin be a lesson — if he can’t get to his Bitcoin when he’s still alive, how are you going to advise family members how to find yours from the grave?
While the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which has been passed in 36 states, extends the rights of fiduciaries to digital assets, individuals still need to communicate they have them, or else the investment accounts or cryptocurrency may never be discovered. Furthermore, with assets like Bitcoin, knowing about their existence isn’t enough. Private keys are the only way to access cryptocurrency, and those need to be passed on in some way.
Step 1: Take stock. While things like investment accounts and Bitcoin may cause the greatest concern, your executor will need access to all of your digital accounts, from utilities to mortgages to telecommunications, in order to get your estate in order. You may be surprised to realize how many digital accounts you have.
Step 2: Communicate and document your wishes. You will want to include the distribution of your monetary assets in your Will, but you should also leave your executor with instructions on how to deal with other digital assets, such as social media, e-mails, or files — including photos — stored in the cloud.
Step 3: Keep your records up to date. Set a twice-a-year calendar reminder to revise and update your digital account access notes. Passwords change, accounts are added and deleted, banks are acquired. Staying on top of changes more frequently will make updates much quicker. Don’t forget to give your executor access to your password manager. If you do not use a digital password manager like Keeper or Dashlane, make sure your written list is locked in a safe — which your executor will also need the access code to!
Alison Arden Besunder is the founding attorney of the law firm of Arden Besunder P.C., where she assists new and not-so-new parents with their estate planning needs. Her firm assists clients in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. You can find Alison Besunder on Twitter @estatetrustplan and on her website at www.besun