There is No Such Thing as Good Grief
Life just got a lot more complex. A bad day used to be getting stuck in traffic for 5 minutes longer than usual. But with COVID-19 as the front page news, estate planning, wills, and trust should be at the forefront of individuals with loved ones to plan for.
No one had seen or heard from Alfred in two days and Dennis Kirkland was starting to get a little worried. He drove over to Alfred’s flat, just a short distance from the studios where the two had worked together for more than 20 years. When a knock on Alfred’s door went unanswered, Dennis inquired with the neighbours who reported that Alfred’s tele have been running continuously since the weekend. He borrowed a ladder to climb up the 2nd floor to take a peek through the window. Sitting in his living room in front of the TV, it was obvious that Alfred had expired.
Dying all alone, bloated and bleeding from the ear, his death reminds us again of the sad clown paradox, more recently manifested by the Robin Williams suicide. The scene was a stark contrast to the six-pack inducing laughters brought to millions all over the world. Alfred Hawthorne Hill was better known by his namesake, a popular comedy show — Benny Hill. Mixing slapstick, double entrende, and burlesque, the show was televised in 97 countries and was often criticized for being politically incorrect, irreverent and offensive. But funny he was.
Despite being a huge success, Hill was a tightwad and by the time of his death he had amassed a fortune of £7,548,192, equivalent to £15,735,380 in 2019. His death underscored another tragedy. Hill died intestate, meaning without a will. But Hill is not alone. Many wealthy individuals die intestate. Well-known celebrity cases include Prince, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley and billionaire Howard Hughes, just to name a few.¹ Even disciplined, successful folks have fallen to this lapse. Lawyer-trained Abraham Lincoln was one.
How do you want to be remembered?
You’ve done a lifetime of great things. Why ruin it and spark a family feud by dying without leaving instructions for the distribution of your estate? Trust me that dying intestate will leave agonizing memories, creating potentially lifelong ill-effects on the ones you love the most. Millions of people have not written a will, with many thinking that they are too young, too busy, or not wealthy enough. So they simply put it off. This is common even in many high-net worth families. The forfeitures come in the form of lost inheritance, unclaimed bank balances and insurance policies, lost pensions, and legal settlements. And let’s not forget digital assets.
Due to the anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies, there is a risk that loved ones may never find them. Complicating the matter is the decentralized nature of digital assets. So even if a beneficiary is named as the heir of a digital asset, unless the private key is properly custodied, such assets are lost to the ether — forever. Billions of dollars worth of Bitcoins alone are lost each year that are attributed to death.² This happened when banking heir Matthew Mellon died taking about $1B in XRP with him.³ You may heard of the now defunct QuadrigaCX exchange whose CEO-founder, Gerald Cotton, mysteriously, and I say allegedly, died in India, taking the passwords of the wallets on his exchange. This is actually not an estate planning incident as the “lost” coins belonged to QuadrigaCX’s customers and not Messrs Cotton. It’s downright sloppy, corporate governance, or the lack thereof at best. To date, requests to exhume his body has been unfulfilled so this is looking more like fraud.
Even if you actively trade your digital assets, ensuring that they will be properly transferred to your beneficiaries is tricky. Say you use an attorney or an executor who will be tasked with the transfer. How can you be sure that they will complete the transfer upon your death? Unlike non-digital assets, say a bank account or a property deed, no court order or enforcement can complete the transfer without the private key. Even if you keep your private key without manual (human) intervention, what happens when the time comes and you need a reliable mechanism to transfer the contents of the cold wallet? Will your lawyer or executor know how to transfer the currency? Or do you want to share your keys with them until your death? There is a saying in cryptos: If you don’t own your private keys [exclusively], you don’t own the coins.
Now if you are an active trader, you may have your digital assets on an exchange. First, an exchange is not a safe place to keep digital assets for an extended period. Make the trade, then move the asset into your own wallet. Minimize the risk exposure of when it is an exchange-based wallet. Read my previous article, “Custody is NOT Sexy” on why. However, because the exchanges are actually the ones directly holding the key to your digital assets, some exchanges will comply with a legal court order to facilitate a proper transfer. The process, if it has to go this way, is not the proper way to handle estate execution matters. Depending on jurisdiction, regulatory concerns are still figuring this out. The route is a major hassle of last resort.
Blockchain is Here
Will writing services have been around for some time. Nolo, a legal do-it-yourself publisher, has been around since 1971. I used to work across the street from them in Berkeley, and at lunch I would like to browse their self-help books and templates. Their legal forms are available online along with other web-based will creation services.
China recently passed a law stating that cryptocurrencies, as part of overall digital assets, are considered inheritable assets. But putting legal inheritance aside, if the private keys are not transferred to the beneficiary, the assets are gone to the grave with the deceased. How can you ensure that your private keys are safeguarded and yet be properly transferred upon your death?
A revolutionary service is available by Octowill.io which not only provides online will-creation but also registers the will on a blockchain. It is effectively a smartcontract platform that utilizes AI-based proof-of-life technology so that it can facilitate will and estate execution. Not only is the service cost-effective, but it will be much easier to maintain wills and estate plans, mitigating situations where an out-of-date will can cause as much problem as being in intestate. In fact, Hill had a will, but it was more than 31 years old and was essentially useless.
Octowill partners with QuantDART’s custodial service which incorporates m of n signature access which is ideal as it maps into Octowill’s estate planning tool for setting up trusted persons to safeguard the estate plan. When a user creates a QuantDART wallet, a passkey PDF is created, which the user can keep safely. On its own, the PDF is not enough to access the contents of the wallet. However, if the user loses their key, or dies, then the presentation of the PDF can be used in conjunction with an operational authentication process, such as estate execution, to legally recover the keys.
Estate planning can be complex. There are tax implications, jurisdiction, and volatile relationship issues. With the recent deaths that is the Covid-19 pandemic, creating and updating your estate plan, which includes the will, should take greater priority. Don’t put it off. It’s never a good time, but such is life. Be considerate and take care of your love ones while you still can and don’t compound a potential tragedy at the worst time. You will thank yourself later, and so will your love ones.
Life is precious. Make the most of it and be safe.