Financial planning, like most disciplines, generally relies on the assumption that the dead will remain that way. Some people, however, are not as willing to accept this premise.
Cryonicists believe science will eventually give us the ability to reanimate the dead. In preparation for this possibility, they elect to have their bodies, or sometimes merely their heads, stored in extreme low temperatures so that, when the time comes, they can be restored to life. Some anticipate a future in which their bodies will be thawed and cured of their ailments, while others see the process as akin to data storage, preserving the organic record of their thoughts and memories until these can be downloaded onto some new medium. “It’s clear to me that memories are stored as molecular arrangements. I’m just trying to preserve the memories,” one cryonicist told The New York Times.
But while would-be immortals may be willing to wait around for science to advance, the legal and financial questions surrounding cryonics require serious believers to make plans in the present, before they start their hiatus.
Since cryonics remains well outside the mainstream, most end-of-life matters have yet to be thought through as temporary-suspension-of-life concerns. Ordinarily, at death, social security numbers are cancelled and made public, and citizenship privileges such as voting are revoked (at least in most jurisdictions). What would the temporarily dead need to do to put their legal status on ice along with their bodies? Cryonicists who fail to plan ahead might find themselves returning as undocumented residents — an unfortunate situation when the only apparent deportation destination lies beyond the grave.
If a client came to me for help with financial planning for a post-death future, my first questions would probably relate to what exactly is being preserved and until when. Since job prospects are poor for frozen cadavers and severed heads, those going into the deep freeze would need to set up a fund in advance to pay for their preservation and possible reanimation and also, perhaps, to support themselves should they ever be restored.
If my hypothetical client intended to reinhabit his body, his post-resurrection lifespan would probably not be very long. Even if the thing that killed him could be cured, other deteriorations of the mind and body would still occur. An 80-year-old client might then be safe setting aside only enough cash for an extra decade or two of life, accounting for several years of inflation and investment growth in between death and reanimation.
If, on the other hand, my client planned to defer his return until his body can be thoroughly revamped or replaced, he would need a larger nest egg. On the other hand, there would also be more time for investments to grow between death and reanimation.
Perhaps the strangest financial planning question would be what to do for the client who envisions a future without a body. What expenses would be involved in living as a sequence of digital zeros and ones? It might seem that disembodied life would be nearly expense-free. We do not set aside funds to the support our Excel spreadsheets. But members of virtual worlds like Second Life have already demonstrated that it is possible to spend real money on virtual products. Since there is no apparent end to life as a data set, the digitally reanimated would likely have little hope of retirement. They might achieve unending life of a sort, but it would also be a life of unending work, with bodiless avatars toiling away at virtual stores, or even virtual financial planning firms. In any event, life as a digital avatar would probably create a lot of fervent believers in the importance of making regular backups of your valued computer files, which in this case would mean making a backup of yourself.
On the plus side: If your digital self ever had its digital heart broken, you could get over it immediately by restoring to a backup you made before you got into the unhappy relationship.
While a cryonics-based financial plan makes an interesting thought experiment, it’s also troubling, since planning for a hypothetical post-death future would inevitably conflict with more traditional financial goals. By setting aside money for a second incarnation, cryonicists leave less to those around them. In lieu of placing money in trust so a child or grandchild could go to his or her college of choice, for example, a cryonicist might buy a bit more time in a steel box or create a better hedge against the possible high costs of his own future medical care.
Not surprisingly, dabbling in cryonics does not help keep things harmonious with one’s spouse. A 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz explained, “From its inception in 1964, cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.” While most married people want their estates to be used to support their surviving partners, cryonicists instead devote their money to a future their spouses will not share. Alcor, which claims to be the “world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology,” suggests funding preservation using life insurance proceeds by either transferring the ownership of a policy to the company or by making the company the beneficiary.
I would make a sardonic comment here that you could, instead, name me as a beneficiary of your life insurance policy and trust me to do something worthwhile with the money, but this commentary gets distributed on several widely read outlets, and there is too much of a risk that someone out there will actually do it. So please, if you do not know me, do NOT make me a beneficiary of your life insurance or other estate plans.
I do not intend to have my body or brain frozen, but I do believe that I will have a part in the future. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live there. I don't worry about not seeing Halley's Comet return, because they will see it, and thus, in a sense, so will I. I do worry about how to pay for Social Security 30 years, 75 years, and 125 years from now, because I know that even if my body is not around at those dates, other bodies just as meaningful to me will be.
This is the how humans have sought immortality since we first recognized our connection to those who came before us and those who will come after.
If a client ever approaches me for cryonics-related financial planning, I will try to help. But when it comes to my own post-death plans, my financial goals are simple: to give those I leave behind and those who follow them the best lives possible. I don’t need liquid nitrogen for that.