Most talk about blockchain technology focuses on how distributed ledgers can solve problems in our lifetimes. But does blockchain technology also have a role to play when our lives are over?
Wills and Estate Settlement
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 tombstones.
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.