Transferring Bitcoin from Beyond the Grave

Published on October 30th, 2020

Wouldn’t it be absolutely crazy for a deceased person to donate digital money to a political campaign from beyond the grave?

Before I go any further, I want to say that everything I say from this point forward is mostly written for entertainment purposes. The probability of this actually happening is very low. It requires believing certain things about the world that you may not believe (e.g., remote viewing and/or psychic mediumship are real things). It also requires a somewhat complicated series of events as dependencies. Still, I find it a fun idea to explore because I believe cryptocurrencies open the door to something that was never a possibility before (even if the probability is 0.0001%). And for someone with the right skill, this would be akin to winning the lottery.

So with those big disclaimers and assumptions behind us, let’s discuss that what and how.

The What: Money Outside of Human Intervention

Suppose you die with the following assets: a house, a bank account, and some gold buried in your backyard. From the other side, how can you control where that all goes?

In most Western cultures, the answer is a will. This legal document provides guidance (backed through legal precedent and the force of law) as to how the house and bank account are transferred and taxed. There are intermediaries that handle the seizing and transferring along the way. In short, human intervention is involved.

The gold stored in a safe or buried in the backyard is a different story. If no one knows it exists, then it might just stay there forever. However, it could be discovered at a later date by random chance (unlikely). A more realistic way it could be found is if the owner provided a map. Then the map or instructions would have to be given to someone (either before or after death).

So what about Bitcoin?

Like the situation about gold, someone can own Bitcoin without others either knowing about it OR (more importantly) having access to it.

If I die and my next of kin knows I have a bank account, a house, and gold in the back yard, they will eventually be able to get to all 3. However, if someone owned Bitcoin and didn’t provide their next of kin the private keys, there is basically no way to ever retrieve it.

A Bitcoin private key is effectively 256 bits of information. See the following example:

01000101 00111001 00111000 00110111 00110011 01000100 00110111 00111001 01000011 00110110 01000100 00111000 00110111 01000100 01000011 00110000 01000110 01000010 00110110 01000001 00110101 00110111 00110111 00111000 00110110 00110011 00110011 00110011 00111000 00111001 01011111 01010011

To randomly guess the correct one would be the equivalent of correctly guessing 256 coin flips in a row. Or as Jameson Lopp points out, the equivalent of guessing the winning Powerball numbers 9 times in a row.

In short, this would be practically impossible to discover by accident or through brute force. But what if there was another way?

The How: Mediumship and Math

Imagine you could communicate with the dead. Put away your skepticism for just a moment, and let’s just have fun playing this out.

Let’s assume that this communication would not be as crystal clear as talking to someone on the phone. Instead, imagine it’s more akin to playing charades where the communication comes through in symbols or illustrations that you need to guess.

Clearly, this type of communication (if it’s even possible, as the skeptics are ready to point out) would be useless for figuring out a private bitcoin key. Imagine trying to have 100% accuracy on 256 rounds of charades to get the exact 1’s and 0’s. Again, imagine trying to perfectly guess the following:

01000101 00111001 00111000 00110111 00110011 01000100 00110111 00111001 01000011 00110110 01000100 00111000 00110111 01000100 01000011 00110000 01000110 01000010 00110110 01000001 00110101 00110111 00110111 00111000 00110110 00110011 00110011 00110011 00111000 00111001 01011111 01010011

Oof.

Ok, well humans use numbers and letters. So what if instead, we tried to communicate those instead of the raw bits? Even then, it would be equivalent to 64 rounds with 100% accuracy. See this example private key.

E9873D79C6D87DC0FB6A5778633389F4453213303DA61F20BD67FC233AA33262

So far, this idea of communicating with the dead is a dead end. But there is one more way. Many private keys are generated from seed phrases. These seed phrases are 12 words that can generate the 256-bit string for a private key. Here’s an example seed phrase .

witch collapse practice feed shame open despair creek road again ice least

Now, this is where things get interesting. In a game of charades where the goal is to communicate a word, now we have a more human-friendly means of guessing. And instead of needing 256 or 64 correct guesses in a row, we only need 12.

Ok, this is better but still not trivial. Even if our medium has an amazingly high success rate of 75% at guessing each word, that puts the overall odds of getting all 12 at 3%. Still, this is extraordinarily better than trying to guess 9 sets of Powerball numbers back to back. And given that a single private key may hold hundreds of millions of dollars of Bitcoin from a forgotten address, all it takes is once for this to be a life-changing event (like winning the Powerball).

Back to Reality

It should be noted that the effort and skill necessary to perform combined with the low probability of success means that this is unlikely to ever happen.

However, I find it interesting given that cryptocurrencies (being a currency controlled by those knowing private information versus control over physical assets) open this door. It makes it possible for the transferring of assets beyond the grave and outside of the current legal processes and procedures.

Still, a warning. If you do own such assets and plan to transfer them to your next of kin, don’t fuck around. Have a plan. It might still be worthwhile to put the transfer instructions within a will so as to ensure you don’t need to call upon supernatural abilities.

And if you are a skilled medium and someone from the other side is trying to tell you 12-words, you may just win the lottery.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, can I ask you for a favor?

I would like the opportunity to connect with you on an ongoing basis with the intention that I continue to provide you with valuable information and insights to help transform your life personally and professionally. To that end, it would mean a lot to me if you performed one or more of the following.

  1. Sign up for my newsletter to get new articles sent right to your inbox.
  2. Follow me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn. Don't forget to say hi!
  3. Share this article with anyone that might benefit from it.

Thanks again for your time and attention! It means the world to me to know that you gave me this opportunity to connect with you.

About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.