What Happens To Your Crypto and Bitcoin When You Pass Away?

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    With the rise in popularity of cryptocurrency and other digital assets like NFTs in the past few years, it has become increasingly important for investors to include their crypto assets in their estate plan. We commissioned an AngusReid survey to find out how Canadians are planning to pass on their digital assets, and the results might surprise you.  

    What is cryptocurrency?

    To make sure we’re all on the same page before jumping into the results, here’s a brief overview of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is decentralized digital money that uses blockchain technology to record and verify transactions. Cryptocurrency can be used to buy goods and services and has also become a common type of investment. While Bitcoin is the most popular and valuable cryptocurrency it’s estimated that there are over 6,500 cryptocurrencies in total, including other top cryptocurrencies like Etherium, Litecoin, and Ripple.

    What is a cryptowallet?

    Like your regular wallet that stores your cash, coins and credit cards, a cryptowallet a place to keep the private keys needed to access your Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency safe. When you buy cryptocurrency, you might have the option to leave the keys in your account on the platform, but many choose to move their keys off the platform and store them in a crypto wallet instead. There are three types of cryptowallets:

    • A cold wallet which stores your keys offline in a physical device that looks like a USB
    • A hot wallet which stores your keys on internet-connected software
    • A paper wallet which is a printed paper copy of your private keys

    What’s the difference between Bitcoin, Etherium, Litecoin, and Ripple?


    Bitcoin is intended to be an alternative to the currency printed by banks. Bitcoin runs on a technology called blockchain, which is essentially a public database that records Bitcoin transactions. This database uses a peer-to-peer network that requires network “miners” (people with powerful computers) to verify the transactions before they are recorded.


    Etherium is a blockchain network like Bitcoin. It can also be used as an alternative currency, but fewer vendors accept Etherium. Etherium is better known for its smart contracts - computer code that automatically executes the contract when the terms of the agreement have been met without the need for human intervention. Ether is the currency used to pay to run programs on the Etherium network.


    Litecoin is another decentralized cryptocurrency that adopts many of Bitcoin’s features, in fact its founder announced that Litecoin would be the “lite version of Bitcoin” and the “silver to Bitcoin's gold”. Litecoin has faster transaction speeds and because of this its platform handles more transactions.


    Ripple is also a blockchain driven platform but its focus is on facilitating cross-border transactions in just a few seconds, which is much faster than the hours or days it might take a bank. Ripple’s XRP coins are intended to be a linking currency between the two international currencies involved in the transaction.

    44% don’t know what happens to a person’s cryptocurrency when they die

    While the cryptocurrency market has grown quickly, it’s relatively new technology that many Canadians don’t fully understand yet. So it may not be entirely surprising that nearly half of Canadians (44%) don’t know what would happen to cryptocurrency holdings when the person who owns them passes away. However, among respondents who said that they do know what would happen, there were a variety of different answers.

    10% believe the cryptocurrency is lost forever

    10% of Canadians said that when a person passes away, their cryptocurrency holdings are inaccessible and lost forever. Good news: this answer is incorrect. A person’s cryptocurrency isn’t automatically lost in space upon death - this only happens if the password or private key required to access it isn’t shared with a loved one, or if they didn’t hold their crypto in an app/platform like Coinsquare or Coinbase. By including your cryptocurrency in your estate plan (including how it can be accessed), your cryptocurrency will be transferred to a beneficiary.

    15% believe that cryptocurrency transfers to a beneficiary named on the account

    15% of Canadians believe that if a beneficiary is named on the crypto account, it would transfer to that person. While it’s true that you can name a beneficiary in your will to inherit your crypto, it’s not as easy as naming a beneficiary on your RRSP - the process involves a few more steps (find out below).

    22% said that a person’s executor accesses the crypto to transfer to beneficiaries

    Only 22% correctly reported that cryptocurrency is not automatically transferred upon death, rather the person’s executor would need to access the crypto. Despite the advanced technology behind cryptocurrency, the method for distributing a person’s cryptocurrency remains old-school.

    Your cryptocurrency is an asset that forms part of your estate, just like a house or car. Let’s say you own Bitcoin before passing away - your executor would transfer your Bitcoin to the named beneficiary in your will. If you didn’t have a will, a loved one would apply to the court to be appointed as estate administrator, and your Bitcoin would be distributed to heirs according to provincial intestacy laws. Of course, both scenarios require that the executor is able to access your Bitcoin, which is why it’s important to be proactive and make an emergency plan for your digital assets.

    How to leave cryptocurrency in your will

    1. Create a will to and power of attorney documents to outline who would handle your digital assets

    The first piece of your emergency plan should be a will and power of attorney documents. Most crypto exchanges and digital asset platforms require a copy of a will or POA document before they will confirm that your assets exist and allow your executor to access them. Your will sets out who inherits your assets when you pass away, and who should take on key roles like a guardian for minor children and executor for distributing your estate. On the other hand, a power of attorney appoints someone to manage your assets while you’re alive but incapacitated due to illness or injury. These two documents are crucial to avoid having the court make decisions about your digital assets, which can cause delays and added costs for loved ones.

    1. Create an up-to-date asset list that includes digital assets

    An asset list is an important component of an emergency plan that compliments your will and power of attorney documents. Making a complete up-to-date list of assets and storing it with your will prevents any of your digital assets from being forgotten (since there is no central body that your loved ones can ask).

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

    Your Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency is protected behind either a password to a crypto exchange or a private key. Without your password or key, your loved ones won’t be able to gain access to your cryptocurrency. Yet, not having a method of sharing passwords with a trusted friend or family member seems to be a common occurrence. We recently surveyed Willful customers to find out more about how Canadians are planning to pass on their digital assets and 50% of respondents don’t have someone in their life who knows all of their passwords - most people just hadn’t thought about it (74%).

    Having a password manager like 1Password to record important information for accessing your digital assets and sharing it with your executor is an easy way to ensure your emergency plan can come together if necessary.

    The bottom line

    Only 11% of Willful customers who responded to our survey reported having an emergency plan for their digital assets. 39% said they had never thought about it. Now that you know how important it is to plan for your digital assets, you’ve already taken the first step. It only takes a few more to make a full emergency plan and gain peace of mind knowing your beloved Bitcoin won’t be left out of the picture.

    The AngusReid national survey of 1,511 Canadians was commissioned June 16, 2021.

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