Cryonics and Estate Planning in the Future
October 19th, 2018, by Shelley Thompson, attorney with Burns Figa & Will, PC
I recently had two clients separately inquire about cryonics in their estate plan. Cryonics is the science of freezing a body to restore it when technology becomes available to do so. While I have had clients state they wish for their body to be donated to science, I had never before now had clients mention cryonics.
I had to suppress my initial reaction to discount the topic, and do some research. I found that there are roughly 154 patients with a company called Alcor Life Extension Foundation who have asked for their bodies to be preserved. As I understand it, at this time, there is not technology that would bring a person back, so to speak; however, some people have invested in the possibility. The cost to be preserved in Alcor is around $200,000 plus annual dues. There are other interesting scientific endeavors underway, such as using stem cells, nerve stimulation and other processes to try to regenerate brain function, and using cryonics to improve organ donation processes.
Then, I stumbled across discussion of “revival trusts” in estate planning, i.e., a client attempting to essentially hold onto their wealth in virtual perpetuity for potential revival of their body or brain. The literature contained recommendations on drafting such trusts to allow loved ones to limited use of the property while it is preserved, and rebutting certain legal challenges, which would most certainly take place if use of such trusts became common. To start, there are long-standing laws that prevent assets from being held in trust forever.
While the science behind preservation or revival sounds interesting, I found no credible information that we are even close to being able to bring a frozen body or mind back from the dead. Given that, I found the idea of drafting trusts for clients to preserve their wealth, for a thousand years, in hopes of holding onto it later, to be absurd. While loved ones and charities have no rights whatsoever to any inheritance, and I have always thought they should not feel entitled, it also seems mistaken for anyone to encourage a belief that one can hold onto their money forever. In sum, the skeptic in me prevailed, and I would currently recommend against clients considering cryonics or “revival trusts.”