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What happens to your Bitcoin after you die? The “dead man button” is an option


If you have ever asked yourself this question, in a more pragmatic than philosophical way, we can give you the answer. An issue like this surely involves a significant amount of money for some people. Therefore, a group of developers are in charge of creating a system that is used by the heirs of a dead person to recover their Bitcoin. This is the dead man button.

Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and beyond

Recently, in London a project of some developers was released to experiment with the reuse of the current Lightning protocol. In this idea private messages are sent as a kind of “dead man button”. It is constituted as a system that cannot be censored and that would keep cryptocurrencies safe for their heirs.

These developers are looking for an alternative in which the Lighning Network can be used as the basis for the "dead man button", and that is the solution to the problem of cryptocurrency inheritance like Bitcoin.
These developers are looking for an alternative in which the Lighning Network can be used as the basis for the “dead man button”, and that is the solution to the problem of cryptocurrency inheritance like Bitcoin.

In general, it is a button that must be pressed weekly. If the “dead man button” is not pressed for a week, it is assumed that the user is dead and the service automatically dispenses a “secret”, which the heirs can use to recover the cryptocurrencies.

More details on the Dead Man Button project

Lightning Labs infrastructure engineer Joost Jager has been exploring the use of the messaging protocol since last year. At the Bitcoin Advancing conference in London, Jager organized a workshop to find out how to build the button of a dead man with Lightning. If it succeeds, he said, it would show the world that Lightning can be used as a messaging system as well as a paid network.

However, it should be noted that these buttons are not new. In the workshop, Jager noted that Edward Snowden, used one in case he died before journalists could reveal the content of the documents he wanted to make public.

The aim of the workshop was to explore one of Lightning’s relatively new features, “keyend” (formerly known as spontaneous payments). It is so experimental that it is not even described in the Lightning specifications yet. But it offers a way to send data (called “custom records” in LND, the implementation of the protocol in which Jager works) along with a transaction.

So how would this button work?

Imagine a user who wants to pass a Bitcoin inheritance (BTC). That user would communicate with a “service” by pressing a “button” that would send a message every week or something to notify that the user is still alive.

If the button is not pressed for a week, it is assumed that the Bitcoin user is dead or incapacitated and it is time to transmit the Bitcoin, at which time the service automatically dispenses a “secret”, which can be used to recover these cryptocurrencies.

Beyond that, Jager thought some additional features should be added, although they could make the program more difficult to implement. The program should maintain the privacy of the sender and the receiver, he said, and should allow the sender to obtain evidence that the service still has the secret.

The developers were divided into small groups to think about how to build a service that met all these and other objectives. The workshop developers came up with some ideas, which Jager published on GitHub.

It included an approximate implementation, which implements several of the ideas, although he said that the code “is extremely limited and does not implement everything described.” This design is not necessarily the best way to go, Jager said, but it is a proof of concept that he hopes can inspire other implementations.

Imagination vs. reality

Jager said that the “primary” reason why he chose the “dead man button” for the workshop was that it is a complex enough use case to show what Lightning can do as a messaging system.

In addition, Jager added that “many people try to fix their cryptocurrency heritage and need to decide who to trust. This could be an alternative, assuming that the faults are eliminated and that the whole process is hidden under an easy-to-use framework ».

This is unlikely to happen in the short term, but its developers hope that people can imagine and work on the possibilities. After all, this is how the great inventions of the world are born.

Other opinions in this regard

Attorney Pamela Morgan, an expert in cryptocurrency inheritance and author of a book dedicated to helping people develop a plan to transmit their crypto assets, agrees with Jager. For Morgan this type of technology is far from ready. He even said he will not encourage users to put money into any experimental system of “dead man buttons” at the moment.

In addition, he stressed that existing programs or projects do not solve the complex challenges presented by a distribution of someone’s cryptocurrency heritage. The odds of a catastrophic loss are wide at the moment.

This does not mean that we cannot classify these ideas and projects of the “dead man button” as something promising. Although there are few cryptocurrency enthusiasts who have some kind of plan on what to do with their coins when they die, it is comforting to see that there are people exploring possible solutions.

Meanwhile, Jager is working on strengthening the Lightning message system so that it can be used in this area. In other words, Jager and Lightning will continue working to make the “dead man button” a reality sooner rather than later.

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Degree in Liberal Studies from the Metropolitan University. Lover of innovation and believer of technology for the future.

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