Maybe you’re intrigued by the thought of having your body scientifically frozen when you die, on the chance you’ll be revived one day (cryonics). But the thought of having no ready access to funds when you’re thawed would have your head spinning like a polar vortex. Chill.
From the good-news-you-probably-never-thought-you’d-need department, the legal community has an estate-planning answer for self-preservation that will warm your heart: It’s called a revival trust, also known as a future income trust.
What Is a Revival Trust?
A revival trust sets aside your assets, usually under supervision by a lawyer or another professional, so if science progresses to the point that you can live a second time, there’ll be money for you to re-live on.
It’s also a way for an attorney to get his or her hands on your cold, hard cash by writing a trust detailing how the assets will be administrated while you are frozen and given to you if are reincarnated.
Exactly how many people have created revival trusts is unclear. But roughly 400 individuals (including baseball slugger Ted Williams) have been cryonically preserved since the technology begin in the late 1960s and 1,500 have made arrangements to do so upon their death.
The science of cryopreservation is as simple as reincarnation is not.
What Cryonics Is and Costs
Two cryonics centers do most of the freezing in America: the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Mich. and the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.
At the Cryonics Institute, a body is placed in something like a giant Thermos bottle called a cryostat, surrounded by liquid nitrogen at -328 degrees, which suspends all activity in the cells. The fluid is checked weekly and topped off, if need be. Before entering the “bottle,” all water is removed from the cells, so it doesn’t expand and rip the cellular tissue apart.
Alcor uses a similar approach. And both companies have close to 200 bodies each in frozen storage.
Living doesn’t come cheap the first time. Neither does freezing, aiming for a second. The Cryonics Institute charges $28,000; Alcor asks $200,000 (which includes the cost of a trust). Having an attorney draft a revival trust for you would likely run between $5,000 and $15,000 or so.
Pros and Cons of Revival Trusts
Critics view this kind of cryonic preservation and revival trusts with disgust. But certain lawyers, like Kim Kamin, cite a demand for the estate planning documents.
“We should be respectful of our clients wishes,” said Kamin, principal and chief wealth strategist at Gresham Partners in Chicago who is also a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
Nevertheless, Kamin said, revival trusts can create family headaches.
“The prudent estate planner may want to anticipate legal challenges from disgruntled descendants who have been disinherited. Limiting beneficiary challenges is thus uniquely important when dealing with clients who have been cryogenically preserved, as well as their families,” she noted.
Given the emerging trend in cryonic preservation, Kamin said she expects estate planners can anticipate numerous clients will ask them to draw up the trusts, so they won’t find their assets have melted away by the time they’re thawed (assuming that day comes).
Kamin places revival trusts in the vanguard of science in the book she co-authored: The Tools & Techniques of Estate Planning for Modern Families 3rd Edition. “Society is constantly evolving, and significant scientific discoveries abound daily…. Given the fast pace of technological and scientific advancements, it is not surprising that some clients may wish to be cryonically preserved,” the authors write.
Death and Taxes and a Second Life
While Ben Franklin famously said that nothing is certain except death and taxes, Kamin noted there is a bit of uncertainty about how a future Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would view a revival trust.
So far, the IRS hasn’t said if it would treat a revived person as his or her former self for tax purposes, or as a new taxpayer.
In that scientific future, the problem could arise of “double taxation:” taxes demanded two times on the same income — first at preservation, then at revival.
The Science of Self-Preservation
One of the reasons futurists hold out hope for revival after a medical advancement is because at death, the body ceases to function as a whole but some cells are still alive. Liken it to a car that has been totaled but the windshield wipers and the radio still work.
One problem: preservation of a body requires toxic chemicals like sodium pentobarbital, Narcan, metocurine, SoluMedrol, potassium chloride and chlorpromazine. That creates a problem for the here and now in how to dispose of the hazardous waste left over in the cryonics process.
Since a scientific breakthrough making revitalization possible possibly may be decades or hundreds of years away (if ever), Kamin recommends putting a termination date on a revival trust and holding the document at a financial institution that has been around for a while.
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