What Happens To My Crypto & Digital Assets When I Die?

Guest Post by Jessica Li
(Willful)

Over the past few years, cryptocurrency and other digital assets like NFTs have become exponentially popular. But an AngusReid survey commissioned by Willful found that nearly half of Canadians (44%) don’t know what would happen to cryptocurrency holdings when the person who owns them passes away. It’s safe to say that what happens to these digital assets when you die is still unknown to many Canadians. 

Before we jump into why including cryptocurrency and digital assets in your estate plan is important for your loved ones, let’s first discuss the basics of crypto.

Crypto-what?

Cryptocurrency is a type of digital currency that uses blockchain technology to record and verify transactions. By using a decentralized system like blockchain, the financial transaction data that are stored in the system cannot be changed, hacked or cheated. 

In the past decade, cryptocurrency became widely popular due to its security and independence from central banks or governments. Today, there are over thousands of cryptocurrencies but some of today’s most popular cryptocurrencies are bitcoin and ethereum.

What’s a crypto wallet?

A crypto wallet is just like your regular wallet but rather than storing cash and your credit cards, it holds the private keys needed to access your cryptocurrencies. People who choose to invest in cryptocurrencies can move their keys off the platform and store them in a crypto wallet instead. There are three types of crypto wallets. The first is a cold wallet that holds your private key offline in a physical device that looks similar to a USB stick. A hot wallet stores your keys in an internet-connected software. Lastly, a paper wallet is a printed copy of your private keys. 

So, what?

All this information about digital assets and crypto-assets is great, but how do they affect my estate plan? Leaving digital assets like cryptocurrencies in your will is a bit more complicated than physical assets. Since they have no physical manifestation, it’s crucial to include instructions letting your beneficiaries know where and how to access your digital assets. Without specific information about your cryptocurrencies, they might be lost forever. This also applies to other non-physical assets like your social media accounts and other digital holdings.

What will happen to crypto assets and other digital assets when I die?

10% of Canadians believe that when a person passes away, their cryptocurrency holdings are inaccessible and lost forever. The good news is that this is incorrect. Cryptocurrency isn’t lost forever - unless the password or private key (typically 64 characters in length) required to access the crypto isn’t shared with a loved one, or if the crypto isn’t stored in an app/platform like Consquare or Coinbase. A Willful survey found that more than half (52%) of millennial respondents say that they store their passwords by memory. Unfortunately, in situations like this passwords may be lost forever if no one else has knowledge of them. 

If you die without a will, you’re considered to have died intestate. This means the provincial laws will decide how to distribute your estate and appoint your executor, the person responsible for executing the wishes outlined in your will and distributing your assets.

You can save your loved ones a lot of headaches by including your crypto and other digital assets in your estate plan, knowing your crypto will be transferred to your beneficiary. We dive a bit more into how crypto is transferred to your beneficiary and the steps to do so below.

3 steps to leave cryptocurrency and digital assets in your will

1. Outline who will handle your digital assets in a will and power of attorney documents

Your will and power of attorney documents are two crucial documents that will prevent having the court assume responsibility for your digital assets. Your POA documents authorize another individual to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. Unless your executor has an original copy of your will or POA documents, most crypto exchanges won’t allow your executor to access your digital assets. Note that some banks/exchanges may allow you to use a copy of these documents, so be sure to double-check the requirements. On the other hand, your will highlights who inherits your assets when you pass away and outlines who will be the executor for distributing your estate. 

2. Make an asset list that includes your digital assets

This might seem obvious, but the next step would be to update your asset list to include digital assets. This is an important document to store with your will and POA documents so that your loved ones can easily locate the assets and not forget any! 

3. Make a plan to share your passwords and grant access to your accounts

In a recent Willful survey,  50% of respondents said they don’t have someone in their life who knows all of their passwords and 74% just hadn’t thought about it. But what happens when you pass away? Cryptocurrencies like your bitcoin are protected either using a password to a crypto exchange or a private key. Unfortunately, your loved ones won’t be able to gain access to your cryptocurrency without your password or key. 

The bottom line

Digital assets and crypto are equally important as the traditional assets you’re including in your will. Although leaving crypto to your loved ones requires a bit more planning than traditional assets, you can be confident that your loved ones can access your digital assets. The important thing is to ensure your family is aware that you have a cryptocurrency and that they have the necessary information to access it after you pass away.

Willful is an online estate planning platform that makes it simple for Canadians to make their wills and power of attorney documents. No lawyer or notary required!