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After you die what happens to your digital assets and NFTs?

TechCrunch | Erin Bury | Apr 5, 2021

Digital assets and wills - After you die what happens to your digital assets and NFTs?

As consumers build their wealth, assets are typically tangible: cash, investments, property, cars, jewelry, art. But increasingly we’re adding a new type of asset to the mix: digital assets, whether in the form of cryptocurrency or a new asset class, NFTs.

We’re going through the biggest wealth transfer in history right now, with an estimated $16 trillion expected to change hands in the coming decades. While it’s easy to hand over the reins of a physical asset in the event of an emergency or death, it’s not as simple with digital assets.

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When someone dies, they either have a will that dictates how their assets will be distributed, or, if they die without a will, a government formula outlines how their assets will be divided. While a will outlines who should receive what, it typically doesn’t have an up-to-date asset list, nor does it contain passwords or access keys. There’s an estimated tens of billions in unclaimed assets sitting in banks today as a result of a family or executor not knowing about those accounts following an individual’s death.

But an executor can do due diligence by calling financial institutions to double-check whether the person held accounts and get access to those funds, which typically requires providing copies of the will and/or death certificate. With digital assets, it’s not as simple as calling the bank and finding out a relative had a valuable NFT. There’s no directory or central body that governs NFTs or cryptocurrency — it’s purposely decentralized, which is great for privacy but less than ideal for family members who want to figure out if someone held valuable digital assets.

And it’s not just about knowing digital assets exist — it’s about knowing how to access them. A recent study from the Angus Reid Forum, commissioned by Willful, showed that consumers under 35 are way less likely to have shared account access with loved ones (19% of those under 35 have shared account info, compared with 32% of those over 55). This makes sense, since the younger you are, the less likely you are to think about passing on assets after you die. But this tech-savvy younger demographic may leave their families in the lurch if something happens.

So what can consumers do to ensure their digital assets are protected? First, consider using a password manager like 1Password — which can store all of your account information, logins, private keys to digital assets and any other key information — and share the master access password with your executor or store it with your will.

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Second, consider using a digital wallet or exchange to store your digital assets — if your family has access to that, it may also include access to your private keys, depending on the wallet’s features, or the exchange itself may have a death-management process.

Third, create an up-to-date list of your assets that your executor and/or key family members have access to — this should include physical and digital assets, and should be reviewed and updated either annually or when you acquire a new asset or change financial institutions. Finally, create a will that clearly outlines how you want your assets to be distributed and provide specific instructions on how you want digital assets to be distributed.

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