DISCLAIMER: This article does not provide legal, financial, tax or investment advice. Always do your own due diligence and consult with an experienced professional for guidance tailored to your specific situation.
Imagine facing a lawsuit over a business disagreement and not prevailing. The party awarded the judgment will pursue you and your individual possessions. If you keep your digital assets registered under your own name, this party can lay claim to and seize your NFTs and Ordinals.
If you neglect to place your digital assets in your revocable living trust and unexpectedly pass away, these assets will undergo mandatory probate. This process will bring about high fees, costs, and expenses. The decision of asset distribution to your heirs will rest with a probate court judge who has never met you and doesn't know your wishes.
If you were to become incapacitated or face an unforeseen demise, who is aware of and can access your digital assets? Have you established an estate or business succession plan that ensures a trusted individual is informed and has access to all your digital holdings?
These are common issues we see and hear about all the time. They not only apply in traditional personal and business situations, they also are now happening with digital assets like NFTs and Bitcoin Ordinals. Fortunately, there are straightforward methods to prevent this situation.
The digital age has ushered in a new class of assets: NFTs, Bitcoin Ordinals, and other digital assets. As their value and significance grow, so does the need to protect them. Let's delve into the various strategies to safeguard these assets.
1. BUSINESS ENTITIES: CORPORATIONS AND LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANIES (LLCs)
Imagine your digital assets as precious artwork. Holding them in your own name is akin to displaying that artwork in your living room, exposed to potential threats. However, placing them inside a secure vault (i.e., a business entity) offers an added layer of protection.
A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners, known as shareholders. It's like creating a distinct person in the eyes of the law, with its own rights, responsibilities, and obligations.
Limited Liability: Shareholders are generally not personally liable for the corporation's debts or liabilities. Imagine a protective wall between your personal assets and business creditors; that's the corporate shield.
Perpetual Existence: Unlike humans, corporations can exist indefinitely, unless dissolved.
Transferability of Shares: Shares represent ownership in a corporation and can be easily sold or transferred.
Centralized Management: Corporations have a structured management system with a board of directors overseeing the big picture and officers managing day-to-day operations.
Benefits for Digital Assets:
Asset Protection: By holding digital assets in a corporation, they become the corporation's property, separate from the personal assets and liabilities of the shareholders.
Ease of Transfer: If you decide to sell or transfer your interest, it can be as simple as transferring shares, without moving the digital assets themselves.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
An LLC is a hybrid business entity, combining the flexibility of a partnership with the liability protection of a corporation. It's like having the best of both worlds, tailored for smaller businesses or individual ventures.
Limited Liability: Similar to corporations, members (owners of LLCs) are not personally liable for the company's debts or liabilities.
Flexibility in Management: Unlike the rigid structure of corporations, LLCs can be member-managed or manager-managed, offering adaptability.
Pass-Through Taxation: Typically, LLCs aren't taxed at the entity level. Instead, profits and losses "pass through" to the members and are reported on their personal tax returns.
Benefits for Digital Assets:
Asset Protection: Holding digital assets in an LLC shields them from personal creditors, much like a corporation.
Operational Flexibility: If you're a solo investor or a small group, the flexibility of an LLC might be more suited to manage and make decisions regarding digital assets.
Tax Flexibility: Depending on your jurisdiction and the specifics of your situation, an LLC might offer tax benefits, especially if you want to avoid double taxation.
Both corporations and LLCs offer robust protection for digital assets, but they cater to different needs and operational styles. While corporations might be better suited for larger operations with multiple shareholders and a structured management system, LLCs offer flexibility and simplicity, ideal for individual investors or smaller groups. Each state and country allow for different legal entities. For this reason, always consult with experienced legal counsel to determine the best fit for your digital asset portfolio needs.
2. ESTATE PLANNING: THE DIGITAL LEGACY
An estate plan is like a detailed map, guiding your loved ones on distributing your assets after your demise. Digital assets, often overlooked, must be a part of this map.
What is a Will?
A Will, often referred to as a "Last Will and Testament," is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets distributed after your death. Think of it as a roadmap that guides your loved ones on your final wishes.
Asset Distribution: You can specify who gets what, from tangible assets like real estate to intangible ones like digital assets.
Guardianship: If you have minor children, a Will allows you to designate a guardian for them.
Executor Appointment: You can name an individual (or institution) as the executor, responsible for ensuring your wishes are carried out.
Benefits for Digital Assets:
Clear Instructions: A Will can provide clarity on who inherits your digital assets, be it NFTs, Bitcoin Ordinals, or other digital holdings.
Access Information: You can leave instructions on how to access these digital assets, ensuring they don't get lost in the digital abyss.
Probate: Wills typically go through probate, a public legal process that validates the Will and oversees the distribution of assets. This can be very expensive, time-consuming and might expose your digital assets to public scrutiny.
Revocable Living Trust
A Revocable Living Trust is a legal entity you create to hold and manage your assets during your lifetime and distribute them after your death. It's like creating a secure box where you place your valuables, with a trusted individual holding the key and a set of instructions.
Revocability: As the name suggests, you can amend or revoke the trust at any time during your lifetime.
Trustee Management: You appoint a trustee (often yourself during your lifetime) to manage the trust's assets.
Bypass Probate: Assets held in a trust bypass the probate process, leading to a quicker and more private distribution.
Benefits for Digital Assets:
Privacy: Unlike a Will, a trust is a private document. Your digital assets and their distribution remain confidential.
Continuous Management: If you become incapacitated, a successor trustee can step in and manage your digital assets according to the trust's instructions.
Avoidance of Probate: Digital assets in a trust can be transferred to beneficiaries without the delays, costs and expenses of probate.
While both Wills and Revocable Living Trusts serve as vehicles to manage and distribute assets, they come with distinct advantages and limitations. A Will provides a straightforward way to outline your wishes but may subject your assets to the probate process. On the other hand, a Revocable Living Trust offers more privacy and flexibility, especially beneficial for digital assets. Often, individuals use both in tandem to create a comprehensive estate plan. As always, consult with an experienced attorney to tailor an estate plan that best suits your needs.
3. BUSINESS SUCCESSION PLAN: PREPARING FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Imagine building a digital empire and then suddenly being incapacitated. A business succession plan is your blueprint for continuity.
What is a Business Succession Plan?
A business succession plan is a strategic blueprint that outlines how the leadership and ownership of a business will be transferred or transitioned upon certain events, such as the retirement, incapacity, or death of the current owner or key leaders. Think of it as a relay race; the plan ensures that the baton (your business) is passed smoothly to the next runner (successor) without dropping it or losing momentum.
Identification of Successors: Determining who will take over the business. This could be a family member, a key employee, or even an outside party.
Training and Development: Preparing the successor(s) to take on the leadership role, ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge.
Valuation of the Business: Establishing a clear method to determine the business's worth, which is crucial if there's a buy-sell agreement or if parts of the business are to be sold.
Transition Strategy: Outlining how the transfer of leadership and ownership will occur. This could involve selling the business, gifting shares, or other methods.
Contingency Plans: Preparing for unexpected events, such as the sudden death or incapacity of a key leader.
Benefits for Digital Assets:
Clarity and Continuity: A succession plan ensures that there's a clear strategy in place for your digital assets, be it digital real estate, NFTs, or other digital holdings. This ensures they continue to be managed effectively and don't become orphaned or mismanaged.
Value Preservation: By ensuring a smooth transition, the inherent value of digital assets is more likely to be preserved or even grow.
Stakeholder Confidence: Stakeholders, be it employees, partners, or investors, will have greater confidence knowing there's a plan in place, reducing uncertainty.
Avoiding Conflict: Without a clear succession plan, disputes can arise among family members, partners, or stakeholders about the future direction of the business.
Preserving Legacy: For many business owners, their enterprise is a significant part of their legacy. A succession plan ensures that this legacy continues and thrives.
Financial Security: For businesses that represent a significant portion of an owner's wealth, a succession plan can ensure that the owner's financial security is maintained, especially if they're relying on proceeds from the business for retirement.
A business succession plan is not just about preparing for the end but ensuring the continued success and growth of the business. Especially in the digital age, where assets can be intangible and complex, having a clear roadmap for the future is paramount. As always, crafting such a plan requires foresight, strategic thinking, and often the guidance of professionals, including attorneys, financial advisors, and business consultants.
4. TAX ADVANTAGES
Tax Planning for Digital Assets
Tax planning involves strategizing to minimize tax liabilities while ensuring compliance with tax laws. When it comes to digital assets, tax planning becomes crucial due to the evolving nature of regulations and the unique characteristics of these assets.
Key Considerations for Digital Assets:
Nature of Digital Assets: Depending on the jurisdiction, digital assets like cryptocurrencies might be treated as property, currency, or even a security for tax purposes. The classification can significantly impact how gains, losses, and transactions are taxed.
Capital Gains and Losses: If you sell a digital asset for more than you paid, you may incur a capital gain, which could be taxable. Conversely, selling for less might result in a capital loss, potentially offsetting other gains.
Mining and Staking: Earning digital assets through mining or staking can be considered taxable income at the time of receipt, depending on local regulations.
Record Keeping: Due to the decentralized nature of many digital assets, meticulous record-keeping is essential. This includes tracking acquisition costs, sale prices, and dates of transactions.
Strategies for Digital Assets:
Holding Periods: In many jurisdictions, the length of time you hold a digital asset can affect the tax rate. Long-term holdings might benefit from reduced capital gains rates compared to short-term transactions.
Tax-Loss Harvesting: This involves selling digital assets that have experienced a loss to offset gains from other assets. It's a way to strategically reduce your overall tax liability.
Gifting and Inheritance: Transferring digital assets as gifts or inheritances can have tax implications. In some jurisdictions, gifting can be a way to transfer assets without triggering capital gains, but there might be gift tax considerations.
Utilizing Tax-Advantaged Accounts: Some jurisdictions allow for the holding of digital assets within tax-advantaged accounts, like IRAs. Any gains within these accounts might be deferred or even tax-free, depending on the account type.
Minimized Tax Liability: Effective tax planning ensures you're not paying more tax than necessary.
Reduced Complexity: Understanding the tax implications of digital assets and planning accordingly can simplify the often complex process of tax filing.
Future Preparedness: As regulations evolve, having a tax plan in place ensures you're prepared for any changes and can adapt accordingly.
Tax planning for digital assets is not just about compliance; it's about optimizing your holdings to ensure growth while minimizing tax liabilities. Given the rapidly changing landscape of digital asset regulations, it's crucial to stay informed and consult with tax professionals familiar with the intricacies of digital assets. Proper planning today can prevent unexpected tax burdens tomorrow.
5. BUYING DIGITAL ASSETS: PERSONAL vs. CORPORATE ENTITY
Buying Digital Assets as an Individual
Direct Ownership: You personally own the digital assets. They're tied to your name and identity.
Simplicity: There's no need to set up or maintain a separate legal entity. Transactions are straightforward, and record-keeping is typically less complex.
Taxation: Gains and losses from the sale or use of digital assets are reported on your personal tax return.
Ease of Management: Without the formalities of a business entity, managing your assets can be more direct.
Direct Control: You have full control over decisions related to the assets without needing to consult other stakeholders.
Liability Exposure: Your digital assets could be vulnerable to personal creditors. If you face a lawsuit or debt collection, your digital assets might be at risk.
Potential Tax Limitations: Individuals might not have access to certain tax benefits or strategies available to business entities.
Buying Digital Assets through a Legal Entity (Corporation or LLC)
Entity Ownership: The digital assets are owned by the legal entity, not you personally. They're an asset of the company.
Formal Structure: Corporations and LLCs have specific formation and operational requirements, such as filing articles of incorporation or organization, maintaining separate bank accounts, and adhering to annual reporting obligations.
Taxation: Depending on the jurisdiction and entity type, the entity may be taxed separately (as with C corporations), or profits and losses may "pass through" to the owners' personal tax returns (as with LLCs and S corporations).
Liability Protection: One of the primary benefits of using a legal entity is the shield it provides between business assets (including digital assets) and personal assets. This "corporate veil" can protect your personal assets from business creditors.
Tax Flexibility: Depending on the entity type and jurisdiction, there may be tax benefits, such as deductions, credits, or favorable tax rates.
Professional Image: Operating through a legal entity can lend a sense of legitimacy and professionalism, which might be beneficial if you're dealing with significant digital asset transactions or partnerships.
Complexity: Managing digital assets through a legal entity requires adherence to more regulations and formalities.
Costs: There are costs associated with setting up and maintaining a legal entity, such as filing fees, annual report fees, and potential franchise taxes.
Potential Double Taxation: In the case of C corporations, profits can be taxed at the corporate level and then again at the individual level when distributed as dividends.
Choosing between personal ownership and entity ownership for digital assets depends on individual goals, risk tolerance, and the scale of investment. Personal ownership offers simplicity and direct control, while entity ownership provides liability protection and potential tax advantages. As always, it's crucial to consult with legal and financial professionals to determine the best approach for your specific situation.
6. THE PERILS OF GENERAL PARTNERSHIPS
General Partnership and Digital Assets
A general partnership is a business arrangement where two or more individuals collaborate to conduct business for profit. In the realm of digital assets, this might mean pooling resources to invest in cryptocurrencies, NFTs, or other digital ventures. Unlike corporations or LLCs, a general partnership doesn't require formal registration with the state and can arise from mere conduct or even an oral agreement between parties.
Joint Liability Issues in the Digital Asset Context:
Unlimited Personal Liability: In a general partnership focused on digital assets, each partner is personally liable for the entire amount of any business debt or claim. If the partnership faces a loss in its digital asset investments, a creditor can target the personal assets of any partner, regardless of which partner made the investment decisions.
Actions of One Affect All: Every partner acts as an agent of the partnership. If one partner makes a decision related to a digital asset investment or transaction, all partners are jointly liable for the consequences of that decision.
Disputes Over Digital Asset Management: Without a clear partnership agreement, disputes can arise about digital asset investment strategies, management, or distribution. Yet, even if one partner disagrees with a digital asset decision, they can still be held jointly liable for its outcomes.
Why We Advise Against Using General Partnerships for Digital Assets:
Risk Exposure: The volatile nature of digital assets combined with the unlimited personal liability of general partnerships poses a significant risk. A poor investment decision or a downturn in the digital asset market by one partner can jeopardize all partners' personal assets.
Lack of Control: In the fast-paced world of digital assets, you might find yourself bound by the hasty actions of your partner, even if you disagreed with or were unaware of those actions.
Complexity in Digital Asset Distribution: Exiting a general partnership or transferring digital assets can be intricate, especially without a clear partnership agreement. This can lead to complications if one partner wants to liquidate or if there's a dispute over a digital asset's value.
Potential for Conflict: The ambiguity and rapid evolution of the digital asset landscape can lead to disagreements. Without the formal structure that other business entities provide, these disputes can escalate, potentially leading to legal battles or the dissolution of the digital asset venture.
While a general partnership might seem like a straightforward way to collaborate on digital asset ventures, the inherent risks associated with joint liability make it a hazardous choice. The potential exposure of personal assets and the intertwined liabilities of partners in the digital asset space can lead to significant complications and financial danger.
Given these risks, we consistently advise our clients to consider alternative business structures, such as corporations or LLCs, when dealing with digital assets. These structures offer liability protection and a more structured approach to the management and decision-making of digital assets. As always, it's crucial to consult with legal professionals when choosing a business structure, especially in the dynamic world of digital assets.
7. DECENTRALIZED AUTONOMOUS ORGANIZATION (DAO) and DIGITAL ASSETS
What is a DAO?
A Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) represents a new paradigm in organizational structure. It operates based on pre-set rules encoded as computer programs called smart contracts. These are run on blockchain platforms, ensuring that operations are transparent and direct, without the need for intermediaries or centralized control. In essence, a DAO is an organization governed by algorithms and driven by consensus mechanisms among its members.
While we're big fans of DAOs for community management and engagement, this isn't the case for buying, owning and managing digital assets. We share several reasons why this is the case below.
Downsides of Using DAOs to Buy, Own, and Hold Digital Assets:
Unresolved Legal Status: The legal status of DAOs remains ambiguous in many jurisdictions. Without clear regulations, it's uncertain how DAOs and their actions would be treated under the law. This can pose significant risks for members if legal disputes arise.
Liability Concerns: Traditional business structures, like corporations or LLCs, offer liability protection for their members or shareholders. With DAOs, given their decentralized nature and lack of legal recognition, members might be exposed to personal liability for the DAO's actions or debts.
Regulatory Scrutiny: As DAOs gain prominence, they might attract regulatory scrutiny, especially if they're involved in financial activities. This could lead to unforeseen legal and financial consequences for DAO members.
Smart Contract Vulnerabilities: DAOs operate based on smart contracts, which, while automated and transparent, are not immune to bugs or vulnerabilities. If exploited, these vulnerabilities can lead to significant financial losses, as seen in past incidents like the DAO hack in 2016.
Governance Challenges: While DAOs aim to democratize decision-making, they can face challenges in reaching consensus, especially as they grow. This can lead to slow decision-making or even gridlock, hindering the effective management of digital assets.
Lack of Legal Recourse: In case of disputes or issues within the DAO, members might find it challenging to seek legal recourse due to the decentralized and pseudonymous nature of blockchain networks.
Tax Implications: The tax treatment of transactions involving DAOs is still a gray area in many jurisdictions. Members might face challenges in reporting income, gains, or losses, leading to potential tax liabilities.
Reputation Risks: Given the experimental nature of DAOs and past controversies, being involved with a DAO might pose risks to your reputation. If the DAO engages in or is associated with unethical or controversial activities, members might face reputational damage.
Possible Upsides to Using DAOs to Buy, Own, and Hold Digital Assets:
While we started this discussion with sharing the downsides to using a DAO for your digital asset activity, moving forward and as the laws around DAOs mature, there may be several potential upside benefits to buying, owning, and managing digital assets via a DAO and so we wanted to share these below:
Decentralized Governance: One of the primary advantages of a DAO is its decentralized nature. This means that decisions regarding the digital assets are made collectively by the members or token holders, rather than a centralized authority. This can lead to more democratic and inclusive decision-making processes, ensuring that the interests of a broader community are taken into account.
Enhanced Security and Trust: DAOs operate on blockchain technology, which is inherently secure and transparent. Every transaction and decision is recorded on the blockchain, making it tamper-proof and easily auditable. This transparency can foster trust among members and stakeholders, as they can verify transactions and decisions independently.
While DAOs represent an innovative approach to organization and governance, leveraging the transparency and decentralization of blockchain technology, when it comes to digital asset ownership, they come with significant uncertainties and risks, especially in the realm of digital assets. The lack of clear legal frameworks, potential for personal liability, and challenges in governance make DAOs a risky proposition for buying, owning, and holding digital assets under today's unresolved laws and regulations. As always, individuals and entities should exercise caution and seek legal counsel when considering involvement with DAOs or any other emerging structures.
In the digital domain, where assets can rival the worth of tangible possessions, management, ownership, and protection are crucial. Whether you're considering business entities, estate plans, succession strategies, or leveraging DAOs, it's essential to not only shield your digital assets from unforeseen challenges but also to ensure their proper management and ownership. Always engage with a seasoned professional to craft the most effective strategy that encompasses protection, management, and ownership tailored to your needs.
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