The security of cryptocurrency is an attractive feature for many investors, but it can present significant estate planning challenges. While the exchanges are similar to other financial accounts, there are differences between crypto and other currencies. If you own cryptocurrency, below are a few things you should know about how those assets are handled in probate.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of settling your debts, inventorying your assets, and executing the instructions in your will. This can take at least six months and may consume a significant portion of the assets you leave behind. Most assets, including cryptocurrency, go through probate before they can be distributed to your beneficiaries. However, there are some key exceptions.

Cryptocurrency & Probate


While investors consider cryptocurrency to be as good as cash or better, estate planning law treats it as an asset. When you pass away, cryptocurrency will go through the same process as your jewelry, real estate, and other property.

However, many brokerages and exchanges allow you to list someone as a “transfer on death” beneficiary. When you pass away, they automatically become the owners of the contents of your account without going through probate.

Because probate can take so long, transferring ownership on death is usually the best approach. Cryptocurrency prices fluctuate widely, so your holdings can lose value during the probate process. Avoiding probate increases the chances that your heirs will receive as much as possible.

Potential Issues 

To access your cryptocurrency, you’ll need a private key that is only available to the owner, and not even the exchange can reissue a copy. If you pass away and the executor of your estate doesn’t have the key, your cryptocurrency investments may disappear.

The brokerage or exchange may also have rules in their terms of service about ownership of the account. While you may leave the cryptocurrency to a beneficiary, they may be required to move the assets to another account instead of using yours. An estate planning attorney can evaluate the terms you’ve accepted and develop a strategy that minimizes the difficulty of transferring assets.


If you own cryptocurrency and need help with the estate planning process, contact the Law Office of George N. Nam. With more than 25 years of experience, this firm offers detailed legal advice and comprehensive strategies to families throughout Honolulu and Aiea, HI. Visit their website for more on their services and get tips and advice on Facebook. To schedule a consultation, call (808) 487-9455 to reach their office in Aiea or (808) 943-1711 for the Honolulu office.