Blockchain Based Crypto-will Fulfills Last Wishes

This probably will be a game changer in the legal profession. I suspect it will also be a problem for future genealogists who want a copy of an ancestor’s will.

blockchain_apparatus_logoBlockchain Apparatus is a start-up company in Denver that is working on several legal areas, including property and trusts. Its mission is to provide new developments in the legal services industry. The company has found a new application of blockchain technology (see Note #1 below) that works with data available with the federal government database (especially from the US Social Security Administration). This new product makes self-executing digital wills possible.

In the near future, Blockchain Apparatus expects to have a software/network combination which is the executor of a deceased person’s last will and testament. The process will be automated, will run on thousands of computers simultaneously (thereby guaranteeing reliability), and will be visible to everyone (thereby ensuring there will never be a difference of opinion as to the will’s existence).

For the first time in history, it will be possible to hand out the entire process of will administration to a software program running outside of human control. This process will be executed by the code running this software.

The will administration product is linked to the Social Security Office’s Death Master File (see Note #2 below), which is a ledger of sorts that keeps records of verified death reports. Anyone can choose to create a digital crypto-will with particulars of beneficiaries, terms of execution, and so forth. Once the person dies, and his or her records appear on Death Master File, the will gets automatically activated to be executed according to his/her wishes as described in the document.

In other words, a will or testament can be set on a timer so that it is executed automatically upon the death of its creator. The document(s) will be simultaneously very public and also very secret. That sounds contradictory! However, once you begin to understand blockchain technology, you will see how simple it is.

The names involved in the will can be hidden, but the fact that a will exists will be visible to everyone in the world with Internet access. Instead of having each person’s name, physical address, or email address displayed, every person is represented by a crypto address, such as: 355gubKZeMnf9aF3pVP97rzj3uTDxwXyXr. So perhaps the general public can see that a will was filed on a particular date and time and at a certain location but no one knows who Mr. or Ms. 355gubKZeMnf9aF3pVP97rzj3uTDxwXyXr is except for the individuals involved and their attorney(s). Perhaps the local probate court also needs the same access.

Each person involved with the document, including the attorney(s), will be able to decode that address to identify the individuals and also will be able to see the entire contents of the document. However, no one else will be able to decode the address so Mr. or Ms. 355gubKZeMnf9aF3pVP97rzj3uTDxwXyXr remains anonymous, even though everyone can see the date, time, and location where the will was filed and some (limited) information about the purpose of the document.

No, it is not as crazy as it sounds. Thanks to the blockchain, all of this is possible today.

Eric Dixon, member of the Blockchain Technologies Corp’s legal counsel, says, “The Blockchain or the broader Blockchain document goes to the heart of most family and surrogates’ court litigation. It provides better evidence of the actual intent, at a definable, fixed time, of the person making the will or the ‘testator’ in legal parlance.”

The Blockchain probably will replace notaries.

My question is this: How will descendants of the deceased obtain copies of their ancestor’s last will and testament in future years?

Note #1: Blockchain technology did not exist a few years ago but recently has become very popular. It provides a high-security, highly-reliable method of verifying transactions. Blockchain is a glorified ledger that was first created for use in the Bitcoin crypto currency network. However, many national banks, the US and UK governments, and individuals around the world are now adopting blockchain technology to provide verifiable proof of various transactions, such as wills, property transfer deeds, banking, stock market transactions, and much more. The blockchain can record information about money, deeds, energy usage, legal documents, airline tickets, college credits earned, or most anything else.

You can find more information about Blockchain Apparatus at the company’s web site at: http://blockchainapparatus.com/. You can learn more about the new trusted will and testament system at: http://insidebitcoins.com/news/blockchain-apparatus-launches-a-new-trusted-will-system/31516.

For a non-technical explanation of blockchain technology, see The Human Blockchain: Bitcoin Explained Without Technology at https://cointelegraph.com/news/the-human-blockchain-bitcoin-explained-without-technology. A somewhat more technical explanation is available in a YouTube video, shown below and also available at: https://youtu.be/oSP-taqLWPQ.

For a non-technical explanation of Bitcoins, see my earlier articles, Bitcoin: The End of Money As We Know It at https://privacyblog.com/2016/03/24/bitcoin-the-end-of-money-as-we-know-it/ and Still Don’t Get Bitcoin? Here’s an Explanation Even a Five-Year-Old Will Understand at http://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-explained-five-year-old/.

Note #2: The term “Death Master File,” or DMF, is the name the Social Security Administration uses for the database of recent deaths. Most genealogists know it by another name: the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI. The two products are essentially the same thing.

9 Comments

My immediate concern with this is its reliance on the Social Security Death Index system, since once or twice a year we seem to hear about some poor soul who has been erroneously declared dead by Social Security and has his or her benefits cut off for months while trying to convince the system that he or she is very much alive and well, by which time this self-executing will might well have transferred everything he or she owned to new ownership. Yikes!

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    Yes, this happened to my mom a few years ago. It was an unbelievable mess!! Medicare is notified immediately so for many months her medical expenses were not covered. And she never did recoup all the medical $$ she spent out of pocket. Even though she showed up 3 times in person to her social security office, they seemed to believe the computer rather than her (and it *was* a computer error–a human error, really–someone at the bank where her ss check was automatically deposited pushed the wrong key). Since it took so long to get resolved, the statute of limitations ran out on some issues. She was 90 years old, and no one would speak to me about it. They would only speak to her. I know quite a bit about legal stuff, but it was of no help.

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Errrr…. What’s to stop some persons with less than scrupulous sentiments from posting false Blockchain filings, in order to hijack the process?? Everything else in the world seems to be hackable, or misleadable, in some way. I’m in Mr/Ms G’s camp above – Yikes!

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    —> What’s to stop some persons with less than scrupulous sentiments from posting false Blockchain filings, in order to hijack the process??

    Identical copies of the blockchain run on thousands of computers simultaneously, located in countries all over the world. Next, they constantly compare information with each other to make sure they all have exactly the same information. Then there is error-checking involved.

    Next, within the blockchain distributed ledger, “Each block includes unique features such as its unique block reference number, the time the block was created and a link back to the previous block. Each block is reviewed by a number of nodes and the block is only added to the database if the node reaches consensus that the block only contains valid transactions.”

    To make unauthorized changes to the blockchain, someone would have to find a way to change all of the entries in all of the thousands of copies to identical new values at the exact same moment and each would have to contain all the correct error-checking information. So far, no one has ever figured out how to do that.

    There is a good description of the process at https://www.dlapiper.com/en/us/insights/publications/2016/07/global-financial-markets-insight-issue-10/can-blockchain-live-up-to-the-hype/ and it says, in part, “As the number of participants increases, the replication of the data over a wider base makes it harder for any person to alter the data in the chain. Any attempted addition or modification to the information on a block needs to be approved by all users in the network and verification of any block can only happen through a ‘proof of work’ process.”

    The blockchain is the most accurate and reliable method of keeping track of transactions ever invented, much more reliable than human-generated paper ledgers and also far more reliable than any program or database running in only one computer. The financial community already moves millions of dollars of Bitcoins and other securities every day, relying on the blockchain to prove the accuracy of each transaction. If there is anything that is more trustworthy than the blockchain, nobody has yet figured out what that is.

    You might want to read the article at https://www.dlapiper.com/en/us/insights/publications/2016/07/global-financial-markets-insight-issue-10/can-blockchain-live-up-to-the-hype/

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“If there is anything that is more trustworthy than the blockchain, nobody has yet figured out what that is.”

I’m more worried about the SSDI reliability than Blockchain. I can see a “false death” triggering the liquidation of assets and transfers to descendants/charities and all sorts of irreversible transactions.

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    Please keep in mind that one of the primary purposes of the blockchain technology is to PREVENT errors such as have been described with the SSDI, not create them.

    The SSDI (also known as the Death Master File, or DMF), is a “single input database with data entered by many different people WITHOUT VERIFICATION. Data is contributed by individual Social Security Administration employees, funeral homes, the vital record departments of most states, and possibly others. Each piece of data apparently is accepted “as is” WITHOUT ANY VERIFICATION. Human errors have and always will creep in with this process that uses unverified data.

    In contrast, the blockchain requires verification. I know quite a lot about the blockchain as used in crypto currencies as I am a frequent user of that technology. I can tell you that in financial transactions, no data ever gets accepted into the blockchain until BOTH PARTIES verify the entry and agree it is correct. In the several million entries entered on the crypto currency blockchain every day, the blockchain has maintained a 0.0% error rate (far better than any bank, credit card company, or stock broker’s record keeping).

    I am not sure how the blockchain will be used for recording legal documents but I am sure the verification process will be implemented in some manner, never left blank. In order to become a useful tool, verification obviously has to be used. I suspect the testator (the person making the last will and testament) will need to verify the information is correct when the will is written as will the probate court and possibly the attorney(s) who wrote the will also.

    I’ll be following this issue over the next few years and will write about anything new I discover.

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–> “every person is represented by a crypto address, such as: 355gubKZeMnf9aF3pVP97rzj3uTDxwXyXr.”
If I am a relative who is mentioned in the will, does that mean that I have to obtain that crypto address when the will is written? And ensure that I keep that number to have it available after the testator dies?

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    —> If I am a relative who is mentioned in the will, does that mean that I have to obtain that crypto address when the will is written?

    I know quite a bit about Blockchain technology but am just learning about uses of it in the legal profession. Therefore, my answer is: “I don’t know… yet.”

    I know the person who is making the will (known as the testator) would have a crypto address. I assume the attorney involved would also have a crypto address and I also suspect the probate court involved might have one as well. I have no idea if each and every person named in the will would require a crypto address. I rather doubt it but am not certain.

    Stay tuned as these applications of blockchain technology are developed over the next few years.

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As a California resident I am not at all sure that I would want to set probate in action. Many California residents have trusts designed to completely bypass the probate system. It does not seem that the Blockchain will would be attractive for that reason. It is also true that a trust leaves no record for future genealogists.

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