I recall a 1998 Life in Hell cartoon by Matt Groening. ÒDo you sincerely want to live forever at a price you can afford?Ó reads a sign. ÒThen bring your head down to Akbar Ôn JeffÕs Cryonics Hut. Where the elite beat the heat, and avoid having to meet St. Pete!Ó
These days, cryonics is a bit less of a joke. It certainly was no laughing matter when baseball legend Ted Williams died July 5 at age 83 and his 33-year-old son sent the hall-of-famerÕs body to an Arizona cryonics lab to be frozen. WilliamsÕs 53-year-old daughter from a previous marriage cried foul. Sports writers across the nation expressed revulsion at the thought of the great Williams frozen stiff.
Still, enough people are attracted to cryonics that wealth management advisors should learn to discuss it with a straight face. It is, after all, primarily the affluent who can afford to have themselves frozen in the hopes of living again. When, and if, medical science discovers how to wake these people, they will need to be declared legally alive, and have access to their money.
DonÕt expect many cryonics clientsÑyet. Today in the U.S., only about 100 people are in what is called cryonic suspension. But the practice is gathering momentum. The first person was put on ice in 1967, but more than half of the current 100 cryonic pioneers were frozen in just the last three years. Another 1,000 people are signed up to be cyronically suspended when their time comes. The cost? About $30,000 to $120,000.
What does a person get for these sums? Deals vary; most, though promise not only freezing but also indefinite storage and the eventual effort at revival. More specifically, immediately after death, youÕre rushed to a cryonics lab, where you are injected with chemicals that minimize damage from freezing. About a week later, youÕre moved to another chamber and cooled with liquid nitrogen down to minus 320 degrees FahrenheitÑthe temperature at which physical decay stops. The next week you are placed in a sealed vacuum chamber called a cryostat.
The PlannerÕs Role
If you have a client who wants to take a chance on immortality, the procedure must be properly documented in a living will. There also should be a health care power of attorney, written last wishes and coordination with the funeral parlor and the advisors. RelativesÕ affidavits can be signed in advance to prevent disagreements within the family.
Across the nation, the law requires that cryonic suspension begin after a person has been declared legally dead, which is to say when all vital functions have ceased, permanently. To be suspended cryonically, though, a person cannot be biologically dead. Experts claim that several hours after the legal declaration of death, cells in the body, including those in the brain, are individually alive and capable of resuming function. Many question whether cryonics would be more effective if suspension could begin before legal death. Of course that would raise many profound ethical, religious and constitutional issuesÑnot to mention the tax headaches.
I have learned from experience that proper estate planning is crucial prior to cryonic suspension. Stay with me here. Wills take effect upon a personÕs legal death. That person canÕt know whether someday he will come back to life. Still, he plans for such a revival. Death taxes in the U.S. are due within nine months of the deceasedÕs legal death (notwithstanding the possibility of an extension). So a person choosing cryonics must take into consideration that his estate will be required to pay death taxes. It is, therefore, important for the estate advisor to file a Òprotective estate tax refund returnÓ within three years of cryonic suspension. That way, if the person is revived, he can recoup the death taxes paid.
Many of the people who choose cryonics set up financial provisions through trusts to maintain part or all of their estates until they are reawakened. The problem is that most states require trusts to end within 90 to 110 years. If a person were to be brought back to life after this period, his worldly wealth likely would not be available to him.
Prudent planning leads these people to select one of the 15 states that allow for unlimited duration trusts, including Alaska and South Dakota. They or their families need not have had any prior contact, nor do they have to have any future contact other than the trust, with these states. So, essentially, weÕve got people who never want to die setting up trusts that never die in states where the weather is so cold, a cryonic lab is barely necessary to keep their bodies frozen.
Believe it or not, some insurance companies will sell insurance to individuals entering into cryonic suspension. In fact, insurance allows some individuals to fund the cost of cryonic suspension by making the cryonics organization the beneficiary of the policy, opening the process to anyone who can afford the insurance premiums.
Often, insurers base the payment of the death benefit upon the legal death of the individual. Thus, the death benefit proceeds typically build in trust until funds are needed when the individual in cryonic suspension is unfrozen. Family homes and other treasured assets also are placed in trust, making them available in the event that the individual is eventually unfrozen. In many cases, trust provisions allow family members or close friend beneficiaries to use the assets, and to live in the home rent-free. Proceeds within the trust assist with the maintenance of the home and other assets.
Some trusts have provisions that indicate that if after some period of time (say 200 years) it is determined that it will be scientifically impossible for the individual in cryonic suspension to be revived, then the trust assets are made available to family members, friends, charities, etc. (Experts believe we will not know if cryonics works for another century.)
If cryonics turns out to work, then a failure to be revived might stem from the way the deceased was suspended. As a result, due diligence is critical in the selection of organizations that provide these services. Most of these organizations have Web sites (See chart below.) Some also are listed with Dunn & Bradstreet and the Chamber of Commerce.
Scoff All You Like
The latest in cryonics is nanotechnology, microscopic-sized computers and cell-repair machines, a thousand times smaller than the human cell, that work with atoms and molecules one at a time. These small computer-controlled devices are injected into the cryonically suspended body; they circulate, seeking and correcting any problems. The hope is that eventually such devices will repair almost any disease (cancer, ParkinsonÕs or the effects of aging) or injury, including those caused by the freezing. Many scientists predict that this technology makes the success of cryonics more possible.
In fact, the old adage Òthere are two certainties in lifeÑdeath and taxesÓ may have to be whittled down to just one: taxes. When it is, the Internal Revenue Service might have to create a new category of taxpayer: ÒPeople legally dead who may at some point in the future return to life.Ó