Death and dying are grim topics, and
you probably don’t think much about the challenges that arise when someone’s
life ends. But there are several such complications that the blockchain can
potentially help to solve.
Perhaps the most obvious is the issue
of settling one’s estate after one passes away.
Ensuring that your possessions and
assets are transferred after your death to the people whom you want to inherit
them is a tremendous challenge. Traditionally, the only way to address this challenge
was to hire a lawyer who writes a will or testament for you that specifies who
should inherit what after you die.
Such documents are rife with
problems. For one, your will could get lost, leaving your survivors uncertain
of your final wishes at the time of your death. For another, wills can be
challenged in various ways, with the result that a deceased person’s wishes are
not honored. In addition, because wills are often drawn up decades before a
person passes away, they might fail to address all of the inheritable assets
that the person owns at the time of his or her death and the heirs whom are mentioned
are not always still around themselves when it comes time to execute a will.
Finally, the executors and lawyers who are involved in the estate settlement
process are typically paid out of the estate, which reduces the amount of
assets that the heirs receive.
By registering wills or inheritance
wishes on a blockchain, many of these problems could be avoided. The data would
never be lost, because it would be stored permanently on the blockchain.
Blockchain-based wills would also be easier for people to modify and view
throughout their lifetimes in order to keep them up to date.
In addition, inheritance decisions
could be made automatically via smart contracts. This would make will execution
more efficient. It would also eliminate the need to pay executors and lawyers
for their work in settling estates.
A number of platforms exist that
could potentially register wills and testaments on the blockchain. Many of
them, such as Proof of Existence and Blockchain
Apparatus, are all-purpose services for
registering documents of any kind on a blockchain. The latter platform has pursued “self-executing” blockchain-based
wills already, although it is unclear whether the project remains invested in
that use case today.
There is also at least one blockchain
platform designed specifically for will registration and execution. Called “Will and Testament Coin,” the platform appears to be still
in the early stages of development.
Digital Estate Settlement
On the topic of estate settlement, it
is worth noting how blockchain-based wills and testaments could become
particularly important for solving an estate management problem that the blockchain
itself is creating.
That problem is what happens to
crypto assets after someone dies. If you own bitcoin or other cryptocurrency,
will your lawyer or executors know how to transfer that currency to your heirs?
Even if those lawyers do understand cryptocurrency, will they have the keys to
access your digital wallets? Not unless you share the keys with them, which is
difficult to do in such a way that the keys remain secure and are not shared
until after death.
One possible way to address these
issues is to write out a plan by hand for
passing your digital assets on to your heirs. An arguably better approach,
however, is one that uses blockchain-registered wills and smart contracts to
transfer digital assets automatically. That way, no human needs to have access
to your wallet keys or perform the transfers for you. They could be executed
right on the blockchain, along with the rest of your final wishes.
Resting Place Management
Blockchain technology could help to
manage your final resting place, too. Indeed, there are two distinct challenges
related to graves and burial that the blockchain could address.
The first one is registering grave
locations. As most genealogists can affirm, determining where someone is buried
is often difficult. There is no universal database of graves, and in many cases
burial information is not even recorded by local authorities. It may or may not
be mentioned in obituaries. Plus, because graves can be moved, knowing where a
person was originally buried does not necessarily make it possible to locate
his or her grave today.
If burial information were recorded
on the blockchain, however, it would be easy for anyone, at any point in the
future, to locate a grave. That ability would prove useful not just to
genealogists but also for determining who is buried where in the event that
graves need to be moved or tombstones disappear.
Second, the blockchain can help with
the upkeep of gravesites. This is the challenge that TombCare aims to solve. The platform, which targets users who have
migrated and can no longer visit the graves of their loved ones, uses smart
contracts to allow people to hire contractors who will perform upkeep on
While the blockchain may help some
investors to avoid taxes, it can’t save anyone from that
other inevitability, death. It can, however, improve the way that we manage the
estates and final resting places of the deceased. And as crypto assets become
increasingly widespread, blockchain-based end-of-life solutions may become an
especially important component of this industry.