Bitcoin is currently a popular topic. Here, we are discussing the risk of theft verses risk of loss with these types of funds, specifically why that matters in the context of estate planning. We are by no means experts in this subject, but we’ve done our homework.
Estate planning for Bitcoin can feel like you are in a Divinci Code movie, with secret codes and memorized phrases. It can feel like a treasure map, compared to your traditional banking.
There is so much advice out there online telling you to take some extreme measures to prevent hackers and thieves from plundering your stash. However, you have to make sure you don’t overboard, at the expense of increasing your risk to another type of catastrophic loss, simply losing your Bitcoin!
Estate Planning for Bitcoin
One of the most common ways of holding your bitcoin is on “hardware wallets.” That means that you have a device, not connected to the internet, that has access to your key (the fancy word for your secret password). One way to look at it is that it’s like your ATM pin. The only difference is that you can visit a bank to reset your pin, but when it comes to bitcoin, no one can help you recover it. We’re not talking about a simple passcode with 7 to 8 letters; we’re talking a combination of 24 words that will allow you access to your bitcoin (also called a seed phrase).
In terms of security, you don’t want to leave this phrase accessible to anyone. The internet goes to great lengths to tell you how to keep this secure. They suggest never taking a photo, which is typically stored on your computer, phone, or cloud. This also goes for storing it on your computer. Again – hackable.
They suggest a handwritten note. Which in itself can be problematic. Paper is fragile. Not to mention, have you ever put a note in a “safe” place? A place that’s so safe even you can’t find it? There in lies the predicament. That’s quite a conundrum. One copy can get lost, while a few copies can be misused. Why we don’t have all the answers for storing not losing your phrase, we are here to compare the bigger risk – someone hacking your bitcoin and stealing it or you simply misplacing your phrase and losing it. Based on which is the bigger risk is how you should plan accordingly.
How Much Bitcoin Is Stolen?
According to Casa, one of the bitcoin custody firms out there, 1.6 million Bitcoin has been stolen of all time, out of 18 million total. The vast majority of these thefts have occurred by hacking big companies, as hackers are going for the big score. This also includes Ponzi schemes and fraud. For example, someone says they will buy Bitcoin for you with $100,000, but instead buys a Lamborghini.
We believe that this number is underreported. Not everyone reports it when their bitcoin is stolen, as they may believe that there is nothing that can be done to recover it.
How Much Bitcoin Is Lost Forever?
Let’s take a look at the statistics and compare lost vs stolen. By “lost” we mean that you’ve done such a good job of hiding your passcodes, that you cannot access the bitcoin. According to Chainalisys about 20% (or 3.7 million of 18 million) has simply been lost. That is more than twice the amount that has been stolen.
This number may be a little high, because Chainalisys may include super inactive accounts. However, even if you remove those accounts, the stats are still much higher than the amount of Bitcoin that is stolen.
As you decide to hold and you are learning how to use secure codes, keep these stats in mind. It is twice as likely that you will just lose your Bitcoin by your own doing compared to it being stolen. If you are that worried about having your second piece of paper hidden somewhere, it may be worth the risk of someone finding the second paper compared to you losing the only piece of paper.
When planning for your estate, you have to decide how you will leave these passcodes to your beneficiaries. There are a lot of ways, and they all come with their own risks. A family member may not be able to retrieve your access codes if given a treasure map to “find” the password. You have to balance the risk of simply not being able to access your bitcoin with the risk of having it stolen.
If you want to learn more about probate in general, please check out my book, “How Probate Works.” I don’t have a Bitcoin chapter yet, but you will get a sense of how the probate process applies to your Bitcoin situation.