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所有者过世,加密货币怎么办?

Jeff John Roberts 2017年09月29日

沉浸在悲痛中的家人有可能得到一小笔财产,前提是他们能找到并拿到这些加密货币。

今年,科罗拉多州一位年轻人突然离世,把整理个人资产的工作留给了家人。而后者几乎不知道自己的亲人此前一直在投资比特币。2013年时一枚比特币的价值只有13美元,最近已攀至5000美元的高点。

沉浸在悲痛中的家人有可能得到一小笔财产,前提是他们能找到并拿到这些加密货币。

比特币是虚拟货币,拥有牢不可破的的加密手段保护。这种特性让它成为储存财富的安全手段。但同时也带来这样一种风险——如果持有者死亡,他们的数字财富就再也无人可触及。科技人士投资的比特币市场目前价值约700亿美元(4648亿元人民币),对他们的亲属而言,比特币的加密保护是个大问题。

A young man died suddenly in Colorado this year, leaving his family the burden of sorting out his estate. Little did they know their loved one had been investing in Bitcoin, the digital currency that cost as little as $13 in 2013 and recently climbed as high as $5,000.

The grieving family stood to inherit a small fortune—that is, if they could only find and access the cryptocurrency.

Bitcoins are a virtual form of money protected by unbreakable cryptography. This attribute makes it a secure way to store wealth but also creates the risk that when Bitcoin owners die, their digital fortune will be out of reach forever. That’s a major problem for the relatives of tech-savvy individuals who have invested in a market currently worth about $70 billion.

绘图:Sebastien Thibault

比特币存储在虚拟钱包中。每个钱包都用一串无序编码作为“公钥”,对所有人可见,这就是发送和接受这种加密货币的地址。另外还有一个“私钥”供所有者存取钱包里的比特币。

如果所有者死亡而未将私钥告诉别人,继承人也许会发现他的比特币钱包,但他们也会发现自己永远也拿不到其中的财富。要防止这种情况,所有者就必须确保别人能得到私钥,他可以把私钥写下来,可以把它存在U盘里,或者交给商业服务机构托管。

但其中一些方法本身也有风险。Murtha Cullina律师事务所遗嘱和房地产律师苏珊妮·沃尔什说,执行人和继承人或许认不出比特币钱包私钥,到最后会把它扔掉——这就让商业服务机构有了吸引力。

沃尔什指出,实际上,上文中的那个科罗拉多家庭有可能找回已故亲人的比特币,原因就在这里。家人在查看他的银行账户时发现他投资过比特币,因为账户上记录了对热门的比特币钱包和交易平台Coinbase的借项,。拿到相关文件后,这家人找到了这个设在旧金山的公司,后者证实了存在这样一个钱包,并正在转交其中的内容(其他比特币交易平台也有把虚拟货币转交给亲属的政策,但都不愿谈论这个问题,因为它们担心骗子会用虚假死亡证明来骗取顾客的比特币)。

但如果你不知道逝者拥有比特币,那该怎么办呢?

Proskauer Rose律师事务所律师亨利·莱波维兹说,执行人一般都通过纳税记录来落实财产。他说比特币的这种情况很像以前逝者把股票证书藏在鞋盒里——有时,过了几十年都没人发现这些证书,发行公司最终断定不会有人要求赎回后,就会把它们移交给州政府的无人认领财产管理部门。

最后,如果遗嘱没有提到比特币,就有可能出现房地产律师所说的“开着卡车验证遗嘱”的情况,此时继承人可以宣称“他肯定想让我得到这个东西”,进而把财产拿走。不同的是,他们拿走的不是自己最喜欢的台灯或者首饰,而是价值数千、甚至数百万美元的比特币钱包密钥。(财富中文网)

本文将刊登在2017年10月1日出版的《财富》杂志上,题为《突破比特币银行》(Breaking the Bitcoin Bank)。

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

Bitcoins are stored in a virtual wallet. Each wallet uses a string of random characters called a “public key,” visible to anyone, as an address for sending and receiving the cryptocurrency. A separate “private key” allows the owner access to the wallet’s contents.

If a Bitcoin owner dies without passing on the private key, his heirs may discover his wallet only to realize that they will never gain access to the wealth inside. To prevent this, the owner simply has to ensure that someone gets a copy of the private key by writing it down, storing it on a flash memory drive, or entrusting it with a commercial service that manages them.

But some of these methods come with their own perils. Suzanne Walsh, a wills and estate attorney with Murtha Cullina, says executors and heirs may fail to recognize a private Bitcoin key for what it is and end up discarding it—hence the attraction of a commercial service.

Indeed, that’s the reason why the family of the Colorado man will likely be able to recover his Bitcoins, Walsh says. The family discovered the man invested in Bitcoin upon reviewing his bank account, which revealed debits to Coinbase, a popular wallet and exchange service. With documents in hand, the family approached the San Francisco company, which confirmed the existence of a wallet and is in the process of transferring its contents. (Other exchanges also have policies to transfer virtual currency to next of kin but are reluctant to discuss the issue for fear that fraudsters will use fake death claims to steal customers’ Bitcoins.)

But what if you don’t know about the existence of a deceased person’s Bitcoins?

Henry Leibowitz, an attorney at Proskauer, says executors typically use tax filings as a way to locate assets. He likens the Bitcoin situation to a time when people died with stock certificates in shoe boxes—sometimes they would go unnoticed for decades until the corporation that issued them concluded that nobody would redeem them and turned them over to a state government’s unclaimed property division.

Finally, if the Bitcoins are not listed in a will, they are susceptible to what estate lawyers call “probate by truck”—where heirs walk off with property by claiming that “he would have wanted me to have it.” The difference is, instead of a favorite lamp or piece of jewelry, a relative might walk off with the private key to a Bitcoin wallet worth thousands or millions of dollars.

A version of this article appears in the Oct. 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Breaking the Bitcoin Bank."

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