My Brother died in April and we believe he had a bitcoin account. Is it possible to find out how to recover/take over his accounts? I know this is a new form of currency but it seems odd there is no way of recovering information in these circumstances. Any help would be welcome. I still have all his computers, so can anything be traced through them? Thank you.

  • 1
    Very sorry for your loss. Assuming you can recover the wallet.dat and his password, it's possible to retrieve the coins. Let's start with the first step: do you have physical access to the machine he was using? Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 21:02

5 Answers 5


There are two main ways someone can hold Bitcoin

  1. On an Exchange or Online Wallet


  1. Privately on a computer in a wallet or offline private wallet

For (1) you will need to obtain the username and password to access the account.

For (2) you will need to login to the computer and, depending on your luck, if the wallet is not encrypted, you should have access. If the wallet is encrypted you will need the password to transfer/spend the coins. If you do get access to the computer then look for the bitcoin application and run that to see if there are any BTC in the account.

If your brother had a paper wallet then you will need to find this information as it will have public and private keys to access the coins. These can be imported into a wallet to give access to the funds.

Unfortunately, if you cannot find the info above the coins are lost. There is no central control of this currency so there's nobody you can contact for help.

  • 3
    To someone completely new to Bitcoin, it may be helpful to point out the names of common Bitcoin clients (wallet software). Do we have a list to link to or something...?
    – user6049
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 12:14
  • 1
    Good point en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Clients
    – Paul
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 13:13

There is no general answer for all cases; it will depend entirely on the ways he chose to store and secure any Bitcoins, which vary a lot from person to person.

You will need to have a trusted person look through his effects, both digital and physical. This person should be both an expert in the systems your brother used, and Bitcoin itself.

If this person is able to access his computer, phone, and backups – not just physically handle them, but also examine their digital contents past any logins or local encryption – then it will be more likely they would be able to determine whether he had any holdings. Similarly, access to his email accounts, or any other notes about logins/passwords, would help.

But even finding confirmation of his holdings might not grant access. In typical cases, the ability to control a Bitcoin balance is limited to those who know an impossible-to-guess secret (cryptographic private keys). If he hasn't left any accessible copies of this secret, or all such copies are protected by a strong unique password that you can't guess, there's little hope. The balance is lost to the world, and essentially destroyed – no one else will access it either (so no one else can 'give it back').

Your best bet might be if he held balances at businesses that verified his true-life identity via banking links or government-issued IDs. (Examples of such businesses would be exchanges and payment-processors like Coinbase or MtGox.) In such a case, with reliable information that he is deceased and that you are his rightful heir, the balance may become available to you. (For a long-lived business operating under usual laws, his absence for a long-enough time could trigger attempts to contact him, and perhaps transfer of his abandoned property to a governmental entity, such as a US state's lost/abandoned property agency. I've not yet heard of this happening with Bitcoin, but consider it likely in the next few years.)

Alternatively, if he used a local install of his own wallet software, such as the original Bitcoin-QT, Multibit, or Android Wallet, you might gain access to the balance if his local security was no greater than the machine's own login-screen/lock-screen (and especially if you have that password). Such local wallet programs do not necessarily add extra unique passwords. Where they do, that password could be a fatal block – or perhaps something something family or heirs could discover or guess.

Finally, if he held significant amounts for the long-term, he might have printed/written private-keys. ("Cold storage", for slow access much later.) Again, an expert would likely recognize the usual forms of such keys, if they see them among papers/notes.

Ultimately, though, in such cases you are hoping that he left sufficient clues, or otherwise chose to leave his devices or papers in a state where later possession would be enough to access the Bitcoins. Some people do this; others who are more careful or paranoid do not.

If you had a strong indication that the amount was very large, and no simple efforts succeed, there's always some chance that heroic, expensive efforts – as might be used by a digital forensic investigator in a major legal or historical case – could enable access, even against the owner's careful intent, because of mistakes or unintentional information leakage. (For example, incompletely-deleted remnants of an earlier unencrypted wallet file might remain on a hard drive or old backup, or access passwords might be brute-guessable variants of other passwords leaked via other caches.) But, such approaches involve serious expertise and cost with no guarantee of success.

I'm sorry for your loss and wish you luck in discovering and accessing whatever Bitcoin balances that might exist.


I am really sorry for the loss of your brother.

I know some/most of the exchanges require account holders to be verified to trade and move cash around, i.e. Know Your Customer, which involves providing proof of address, citizenship etc. Could be worth checking their policies on death of account holders and whether they accept any kind of certification as proof of death and 'rights' of access. If you think the wallet represents a large value, it may even be worth seeking legel rep and engaging the online exchange/wallet company through those means.

For what it is worth (perhaps for the benefit of other curious readers), a service like SecureSafe.com provides a solution for these tragic events.

To summarise it provides for 'digital inheritance'; amongst other things, you can manage beneficiaries of your digital data, whether it be a PDF document, online banking access details or in this case Bitcoin Wallet access details... or even a Bitcoin Wallet backup file in its entirety.

Good luck


and sorry for your loss.

You might do a file search for "wallet.dat" on his computer(s), and search the entire disc(s), including subdirectories, and hidden files. Note which directory it is in. If it is in a "bitcoin" directory, you may have found the wallet. If you did, then just try and launch his bitcoin client (program) and see if you can access the wallet data. If it somes up, it will show you a balance. If there is no balance, then any BTC that he had, might have been kept in an "exchange" wallet, or paper wallet, somwehere on the internet. if there is a balance, it can be transffered to another wallet, or sent to an exchange for cash value. It could, possibly be protected by an encrypted password, which you would have to figure out, before you can do anything with it.

Look for a text files, also, (.txt file), that may contain his login and password(s). These could be under any one of a number of programs, like microsoft office, notepad, wordpad. etc.

You need to give a bit more information, sowe can help more. Which operating system was he using (windows 7, windows xp, etc)

This might let us tell you a bit better, what to have you look for. Otherwise we are all guessing.

I keep mine information in a text file, called "(something)_login.txt", and I keep them encrypted, but I always keep a copy of the password. He ,might, also, keep them on a usb stick, if you see any laying around, which is the safest way to keep them.

You ,might look for any file on the disc, named "bitcoin*.*", with your file manager, under "search"...or files named "exchange.*", or any file with an exchange's name, such as "mtgox*.*". This might give you a starting point.

I can give more explicit instructions, if I know what operating system he is using (windows 7, windows xp, etc)

If you were close to me, I could come do it for you, for free. Others might charge you a fee.

If the file in encrypted, it may be a bit harder to access, as you would have to try and figure out what passwords he might use.

One thing I might, also, suggest, is that of you have a computer geek friend, let him/her have a look around on the computer, to help, but keep an eye on him/her, as I trust no one. Don't let anyone remove anything, period. Make them work on it then and there. BTC is worth a lot of money,, and you could loose a substantial amount, if he has been doing this for a while.


I am in the same boat I still have my late husband computer but knew I couldn’t retrieve his account because it had to be a two way verification meaning that the phone number he listed was his old phone from work witch I no longer had possition of. While reading his mail that he occasionally received I received a notice about a fork in the bitcoin and to choose wisely. That was my first realization there was an account. It had been open a week before his passing due to an accident. I was able to reach the operators of this bitcoin service. I had to provide a death certificate, last will, probate And a letter of intent. I am at the last stage of his coin or coins being transferred into an account that I created with same bitcoin service. It has been a long road on this one but you can get them. Another thing is you have to send email via his email account that he established when he was alive once you can prove these details you can establish your own email and open your own ticket to the same issue using your email address I hope this helps you. I am sorry for your loss.

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    Without mentioning which service you're talking about, this answer is rather useless. Commented May 5, 2018 at 20:50

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