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Cryptocurrencies and Death: A South African Legal Perspective

July 1, 2024

Cryptocurrencies have emerged as a revolutionary financial asset, offering both opportunities and challenges. In South Africa, the legal implications of cryptocurrencies in the event of the owner’s death necessitate careful consideration. Here are the key aspects to consider:

1. Ownership and Access

Cryptocurrencies are held in digital wallets, accessible only through private keys. Unlike traditional assets, if these keys are lost, the assets become irretrievable. Therefore, it is crucial for cryptocurrency holders to ensure that their private keys and related information are accessible to beneficiaries or executors of their estate. This can be achieved by:

  • Securely Storing Private Keys: Use of secure physical or digital vaults to store private keys.
  • Informing Trusted Individuals: Providing instructions to trusted individuals or through a will.

2. Inclusion in Wills and Estate Plans

Given the unique nature of cryptocurrencies, they should be explicitly included in wills and estate plans. South African law recognizes digital assets, but their inclusion in legal documents ensures clarity. Important steps include:

  • Specific Mention: Clearly list all cryptocurrency holdings and relevant details.
  • Legal Guidance: Seek assistance from legal professionals specializing in digital assets to draft comprehensive estate plans.

3. Regulatory Compliance

South Africa’s regulatory environment for cryptocurrencies is evolving. Compliance with local regulations is essential to avoid complications during the estate settlement process. Key regulatory considerations are:

  • Reporting and Taxation: Ensure all cryptocurrency transactions are reported to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and that any tax obligations are met.
  • FICA Compliance: Adhering to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing measures.

4. Appointing a Digital Executor

Traditional executors may not have the expertise to manage digital assets. Appointing a digital executor with knowledge of cryptocurrency can facilitate the proper management and transfer of these assets. This includes:

  • Skills and Knowledge: Choosing someone with technical knowledge of cryptocurrencies.
  • Clear Instructions: Providing detailed instructions for accessing and managing digital assets.

5. Digital Asset Management Services

Various services are available to assist in managing digital assets posthumously. These include:

  • Cryptocurrency Custodians: Professional services that securely store and manage digital assets.
  • Estate Planning Services: Specialized services that integrate digital asset management into broader estate planning.

6. Legal and Financial Advice

Consulting with legal and financial advisors who are well-versed in both South African law and cryptocurrency can provide critical guidance. This ensures that:

  • Legal Requirements: All legal requirements are met.
  • Financial Implications: Beneficiaries understand the financial implications and potential tax liabilities.


As the adoption of cryptocurrencies continues to grow, it is imperative for South Africans to incorporate these digital assets into their estate planning. Ensuring secure storage, regulatory compliance, and appointing knowledgeable executors are essential steps to protect these assets for future generations. Legal and financial professionals can provide invaluable assistance in navigating this complex and evolving landscape.