The treatment varies by company and stock plan. You should check your plan and grant agreement, as some plans may accelerate vesting in this situation, at least in special circumstances or upon approval by the board.

Example: You die when only 40% of 10,000 stock options are vested. While the remaining 6,000 options would be forfeited in a standard job termination, such as leaving to work for another company, upon your death the company's stock plan instead accelerates the vesting. The 10,000 vested options may be exercised by your estate or beneficiary under the terms of your stock plan documents. These will have special rules that require the options to be exercised within a specified period.

The 2021 Equity Incentives Design Survey by the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals (NASPP) found that upon an employee's death, 63% of the responding companies accelerate unvested stock options at death, while only 22% forfeit unvested options at death. For grants of restricted stock or RSUs, it found the following:

Stock plan treatment upon death Percentage of companies
No awards are forfeited (vesting accelerates on all unvested awards) 60%
All unvested awards are forfeited 17%
A portion of unvested awards are forfeited and vesting accelerates for remaining portion of unvested awards (pro rata vesting with acceleration) 13%
A portion of unvested awards are forfeited and remaining portion of awards continue to vest normally (pro rata vesting with continued vesting) 3%
No awards are forfeited (awards continue to vest normally) 4%
Treatment is at the discretion of the board of directors 3%

A survey of 325 companies by the Ayco Company in 2019 found that, for restricted stock and restricted stock units, more than 75% of the companies provide for the acceleration of vesting upon death.

See a related FAQ for the impact of death on performance shares.