Wednesday, January 25, 2006

How the dead live (and earn)

Odd story in the Wall Street Journal about that old Futurama favourite, cryonic preservation of the post-mortem rich. Now, it seems, the canny corpsicle-to-be is endeavouring to ensure that their after-life is a comfortable one through a little financial engineering:

Like some 1,000 other members of the "cryonics" movement, [Arizona resort operator David Pizer] has made arrangements to have his body frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as possible after he dies. In this way, Mr. Pizer, a heavy-set, philosophical man who is 64 years old, hopes to be revived sometime in the future when medicine has advanced far beyond where it stands today.
And because Mr. Pizer doesn't wish to return a pauper, he's taken an additional step: He's left his money to himself.
With the help of an estate planner, Mr. Pizer has created legal arrangements for a financial trust that will manage his roughly $10 million in land and stock holdings until he is re-animated. Mr. Pizer says that with his money earning interest while he is frozen, he could wake up in 100 years the "richest man in the world."
Though cryonic suspension of human remains is still dismissed by most medical experts as an outlandish idea, Mr. Pizer is not alone in hoping to hold onto his wealth into the frosty hereafter.
At least a dozen wealthy American and foreign businessmen are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches hundreds, or even thousands, of years into the future.
Such financial arrangements, which tie up money that might otherwise go to heirs or charities, are "more widespread than I originally thought," says A. Christopher Sega, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and a trusts and estates attorney at Venable LLP, in Washington. Mr. Sega says he's created three revival trusts in the last year.

It still doesn't answer my basic question on cryonics, though. Even if it ever is technologically possible to revive and heal the subjects, what exactly would be the incentive to do so? This new trend would seem to make it even less likely that the corpsicle's descendents or executors would find it in their interest to do so:

In addition to heirs or charities, estate lawyers are also naming their cryonics clients as beneficiaries. If they come back to life after being frozen, the funds revert back to them. Assuming, that is, that there are no legal challenges to the plans.
Thomas Katz, an estate planner at the law firm Ruden McClosky in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., believes cryonics could raise fundamental legal quandaries. Upon coming back to life, for instance, would a person have to repay their life insurance? "Our legal notion of death is pretty fixed. The scientific notion might not be as time goes by," Mr. Katz says.

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