What happens to your NFTs when you die?

If you don't include your crypto assets in your estate, they still exist. That could make them more or less valuable.

NFTs after death

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have grown into more than just the monkey JPEGs some people, like Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton, are using as a(nother) digital status symbol and marker of wealth. They’re now being used by artists to fund their work, startups to make a profit on top of the work of others, and are even found on whiskey bottles

Whether you care about NFTs, think they and crypto are a scam, or have no real concept of why exactly they’re interesting, the conversation of NFTs as an investment should eventually turn to the ultimate question of most investments: whether you can pass on your NFT to others after you die 💀.

Unclaimed NFT assets become more valuable. Or less valuable. It depends.

What happens to your digital assets if they’ve not been included in your estate? Or if you forget your wallet key? If someone cannot access the blockchain to sell an NFT, does it really exist anymore?

Yes, the JPEG, video, artwork, whatever, and your claim to them on the blockchain will still exist, and according to Nick Donarski, CEO and Founder of Ore Systems, the asset could either become useless or highly valuable, depending on the circumstances. Some might become useless because there are no chances of recovering the asset—others might rise in value for that exact reason. Either way, the asset will continue to exist on the blockchain, “unless someone was able to guess or recover the private key, but this would require nation-state-level hardware to functionally accomplish any type of brute-forcing,”  says Donarski. 

Instead, the unclaimed asset would be classified as lost. And Donarski says that based on how NFTs have behaved up to this point, depending on the use case lost assets increase in value “as it becomes less likely anyone else can ever own it.” A lost Bored Ape would be extremely rare, and therefore very valuable. Lost assets may appreciate or depreciate in value, but since no one can access the wallet or key connected to that asset, the ability to cash in on that value essentially disappears. 

How to include NFTs in your estate

According to Lyle David Solomon, Principal Attorney at Oak View Law Group, you can pass on your NFTs like any other asset, provided that the proper passwords and keys are included in your estate. 

He says, “The first step is to identify crypto assets and inform advisers and executors about them. There will be a problem if the person who has the assets is the only person aware of their existence.” That requires estate planning, a will, and secure and unchanged access codes. All things the Hiltons and Fallons of the world undoubtedly have. 

He’s careful to state, however, that a will becomes a public document after it has been probated, which means, “It is not advisable to put passwords or keys in the Will itself.” Make sure copies of passwords, keys, and any documentation of ownership are in a place where the intended recipient will be able to gain access. 

HODL, but also document

As with so many things Web3 and crypto-related, the future value of NFTs is entirely uncertain. If you invest in a Picasso, you make a pretty safe bet that the piece of art you own will increase in value. When you invest in an NFT, you’re gambling that the value will continue to grow as it has historically—or that it may one day increase significantly. 

As long-term estate investments are concerned, NFTs do not feel like a safe bet, as the certainty of their value may be short-lived, in contrast to traditional investments that tend to appreciate over time. Investors who build their portfolio on NFTs may be getting in on the ground floor with the opportunity for huge gains. But as with any investment strategy, diversifying is probably best. But also make sure you know where your wallet is.

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Tamara Scott is a writer and content strategist based in Nashville. With a background in English education, she plans and writes clear, instructive content for marketers and technology users of all skill levels. Follow @t_scottie