A digital asset can be anything created and stored digitally that has value. This may include cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), frequent flier miles, credit card points, gift cards, ebooks, music, photographs, artwork, or gaming accounts and rewards.
Digital assets, like any other possession with value, should be included in end-of-life planning. Including them in your will, trust, or estate plan is the only way to ensure the people you want to receive these assets actually receive them. Our page on digital estate planning has a step-by-step explanation for inventorying your digital accounts and assets and designating them appropriately in your will or to a digital fiduciary.
When it comes to digital assets in particular, planning is absolutely crucial. There is no physical manifestation of digital assets, so if the person you designate to receive the asset cannot access them, they may be lost forever. There are two important things to have in mind as you make your plan:
- Access: Your assets will be lost forever if your beneficiaries or fiduciaries are unable to access your digital assets.
- Security: You need to balance access against keeping your digital assets safe from being stolen.
We are not cryptocurrency experts, and this is one of the more complex digital asset topics. It is one you should further research before making any final decisions.
Cryptocurrency is typically accessed using private keys and seed phrases. So you need to make sure your beneficiaries have access to them (but you almost certainly do not want to simply put the keys and seed phrases in your will or estate plan).
You can store your keys or seed phrases in physical form or digital form. Make sure to have backups of the physical or digital forms in case the originals are damaged, lost, or corrupted. You’ll also need to create a way for your beneficiary to obtain the information that doesn’t leave you susceptible to theft while still alive.
It may also be a good idea to include the names of the cryptocurrency exchanges where the cryptocurrency is being held. Some may be able to offer assistance in locating or accessing your account in a worst case scenario where your beneficiaries have trouble doing so.
Finally, remember to revisit your instructions regularly in case your assets have moved and information needs to be updated.
NFTs are typically accessed using a password or key. This information can be passed along to your beneficiaries upon your death, and they should be able to access the NFT as needed. The aforementioned importance of finding a way to pass along the information without opening yourself up to theft applies here as well.
If you wish to completely transfer an NFT upon your death you can do so by leaving detailed instructions for accessing your accounts, setting up accounts for your beneficiary, and transferring ownership.
Frequent Flier Miles, Hotel Points, or Credit Card Points
Frequent flier miles and credit card points are often NOT your actual property. These types of loyalty programs often include in their terms and conditions statements explicitly noting that the miles or points do not belong to you as a member.
But that doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck. According to The Points Guy (which also has a great list of the policies for the most popular airlines, hotels, and credit card companies), there are generally three ways you can pass on your points.
- Transfer the points or miles to someone else. Many companies will still work with you so you can transfer your points or miles upon your death even if they are not technically your property. This is the obvious best choice.
- Allow the points to still be used as though you are alive. In most cases points and miles can be used for purchases for other people. So ensuring your loved ones can access your accounts after you die may be the path of least resistance if you are unable to transfer your points. Just make sure they are mindful of expiration dates.
- Have points converted via fixed-rate redemption. You would essentially receive unused rewards as cash back on a statement balance. This is most helpful for credit card points.
Be mindful of tax implications!
Digital assets are relatively new and not well known. Your beneficiaries or digital fiduciaries may not be fully aware of the tax implications of using, selling, or receiving digital assets in the United States.
The Internal Revenue Service has a page on digital assets you can read to familiarize yourself with the topic so you can make informed decisions about how you handle these assets in your estate plan.