Frozen Assets

Multimillionaires scheduled to freeze their corpses at Scottsdale-based Alcor's cryonics facility are now creating multimillion-dollar trust funds for future spending in their next life. Some descendent relatives aren't too hot on the idea

If everything goes as planned, Laughlin, Nevada, founder Don Laughlin, 75, will die an unusual death. The final beat of his heart and compression of his lungs will end like anyone else's, but the minutes to follow the flat-lined EKG will be a frenzied rush of technicians and experiments. Trained cryonics specialists will pump cryopreservative fluid through his veins. An ambulance will roar through Scottsdale traffic, delivering him to a white, hospital-like room where a neurologist will drill small holes into his skull.

The holes will be necessary because the tissues of the human body, like water, expand when frozen. By the end of that day, Laughlin's body will be strapped in a stainless steel tube of liquid nitrogen, precisely monitored to preserve his corpse at exactly minus 360 degrees, and will wait indefinitely until the day when science can "re-animate" his dead corpse.

"It could be 20 years. It could be 200 years. It could be never," the casino tycoon says of his future resurrection, or reanimation. Should that day come, Laughlin won't be short on cash.

Laughlin is one of about 800 living clients planning to preserve their heads or entire bodies at Scottsdale-based Alcor, the largest cryonics preservation facility in the world. They believe scientific advances will someday revive them and heal whatever ailment ended their lives. Like a growing number of cryonicists, Laughlin has also created a multimillion-dollar trust fund of future spending money for himself.

Laughlin doesn't plan to keep his entire fortune, now nearing $1 billion, for spending in his next life. Sitting near models of his planes and helicopters in the lavish office of his 20-story, 1,400-room Riverside Resort and Casino, the Minnesota boy is certain that he could swing another rags-to-riches success in another life. So most of his fortune, including the casino, airplanes, helicopters and houses will stay with his more religious, less cryonically-inclined family.

But not all multimillionaires with cryonic plans have heirs. After legal death, Valley residents David Pizer, 64, and wife Trudy plan to chill with their three dogs until science resurrects them in, Pizer guesses, about 150 years. In the meantime, Pizer's entire fortune, estimated at about $10 million, will be compounding interest for his future spending pleasure.

Pizer doesn't see himself buying a Winnebago in the next life. "I'd like to come back and buy a big spaceship and travel to other planets. Who knows, if you could live for thousands of years, maybe you could even get out of this galaxy," Pizer says from the office of his western-themed cabin resort near Prescott.

After making a small fortune with his family's auto upholstery company in the 1970s and '80s, Pizer found even more luck in Arizona real estate. Today the large windows of his office look out onto 34 acres of sloping mountains, Arizona wildlife and brush, a creek, horses and fifteen cabins. He owns it all, and since he can't take it with him when he dies, he'd like to lay claim to it again in a couple hundred years.

Not to be mistaken for the spoof satires Austin Powers or Dr. Evil, Pizer says he isn't as sure about buying a spaceship as he is about cryonics, which, in his mind, is a practical certainty. "I think the evidence shows that if you get a good suspension, it's almost virtually a sure thing it's going to work," the Phoenix native says. "I can't prove that. But there's just no reason it wouldn't. The new technology preserves the tissue and brain so well."

Faith, Funding and Eternal Life

Pizer and Laughlin already have trust funds designated for reanimation and for the ongoing expenses of preserving their corpses. Both specify that proceeds from their trusts will fund research they hope could resurrect them some day. Laughlin also plans to generously reward any scientific agency that may awaken him in the future, figuring that the risk of an overzealous scientist resurrecting a half-capable zombie will be one worth taking.

In addition to those funds, the spending money trusts are a more recent splurge. According to one afterlife-financial planning expert, such trusts are growing in popularity among aging cryonicists.

Certified financial planner Rudy Hoffman is a sort of pioneer in cryonics estate planning, which he describes as "uncharted waters." Hoffman has arranged life insurance funding for the preservation and reanimation of about 400 living cryonicists, roughly half of Alcor's entire clientele.

Of those, Hoffman estimates nearly half have some kind of second trust fund set up in addition to their reanimation fund. Hoffman recommends that his clients diversify their afterlife funds for safekeeping because, as Hoffman admits, post-mortem trusts have their vulnerabilities, namely surviving relatives.

Like explorers looting the pyramid graves of Egyptian Pharaohs, the living families of dead cryonicists often walk away from court battles with the bounty of the trust funds.

Not over these dead bodies. Hoffman and lawyers hope to set up enough legal booby-traps to prevent even the financial Indiana Jones's of the future from raiding their treasure.

Tanya Jones, chief operating officer of Alcor, says she has seen more than one client lose his post-mortem riches to living ancestors. "Probate judges care more about the living than the dead," Jones says in a small, windowless office at the Scottsdale facility. Cryonics agencies often step in to secure enough money from the trust to preserve the corpse. Relatives usually make off with the rest.

As with the controversy surrounding the remains of baseball great Ted Williams, still chilling among about 75 other frozen heads and bodies at Alcor, families of the deceased have proven resourceful at producing revised wills, particularly when millions of dollars are involved.

"And My Estate I Bestow to…Myself"

For those who would question the ethics of bestowing a fortune to oneself and ignoring the traditional gifts to charity and family, Pizer has this to say: "It's money that I've earned," he says. "It's not a greedy or selfish thing."

Pizer summarizes the dilemma of self-benefiting trust funds by saying that, quite simply, "Dead people can't own assets. How do you own things within the laws of your country when you're dead?" Humans have spent thousands of years hoping to circumvent death and taxes. Now Pizer feels quite certain he can skirt the dying part. He'll work on beating the taxes in another life.

In laymen's terms, Pizer has named himself as the future benefactor of his trust. For the years that he's frozen, the trust will technically belong only to the potential future David Pizer, but not to the dead and past David Pizer.

"Whenever I exist again, at that point the trust gives the money to me," Pizer says. "That took a long time to figure out how to do that."

In Arizona and about 19 other states, that trust could hypothetically compound eternally, or at least for thousands of years. Nevada recently raised the limit for such trusts to 350 years, which Laughlin feels will be plenty of time for scientists to resuscitate his corpse.

Should he awaken a poor man in the year 2386, the gambling magnate won't feel too down on his luck. Given the option to trade his entire empire to be 12 years old and penniless today, Laughlin thoughtfully says, "I would have to give it serious consideration."

Most cryonicists imagine themselves coming back in cloned 20-year-old bodies but retaining their own unique memories. Laughlin specifies that any resuscitated version of himself should have his own memories. Still, skeptics wonder if a clone with shared memories would actually be the same person, or if it would be the scientifically-spawned equivalent of a twin-a twin created with a hefty fortune of cold hard cash in pocket.

"We'd be happy if they brought us back like the first time," Pizer says, "no money, naked into the world, not a lot of knowledge about how to live."

Pioneering Prophets

Like Pizer and Laughlin, hedge fund guru Edward Thorp's hope for eternal life rests in the technology humanity could possibly develop someday.

Were he to die today, Thorp estimates there's about a two percent chance he could be reanimated in the future. But Thorp, a mathematician to the soul, guesses his chances increase by about one percent with each passing year. "The better the prospects look, the more willing I am to invest in it," he says. "I expect the odds to continually improve."

Valued between $100 and $300 million, 73-year-old Thorp hopes to be around for another 25 or 30 years, at which time he expects preservation technology to be even better.

As such, Thorp's next-life trust fund is a moving target, and he feeds it as the feasibility of his future reanimation grows. "I'll have no trouble saving while I'm in cold storage," Thorp says. "Assuming reanimation becomes feasible, the trust would step in with whatever funds are necessary."

Thorp, Pizer and Laughlin, who've never sat in the same room together, share the same evidenced belief as any three zealots who subscribe to the same faith: regular monetary contributions to the same cause, shared beliefs about the afterlife, common texts of explanation, a single hope for this life and the next and an optimistic faith.

"I think that since cryonics is a thing that isn't socially verified, it takes someone who's willing to explore things and do something other people haven't told them is good," Thorp says.

"There will be pioneers and then if there are enough pioneers and it works, it will be something that will catch on," he adds.

Standing near one of eight, nine-foot-tall stainless steel preservation tanks in the Alcor facility, David Pizer looks a bit like a pioneer himself. His love for old Western cowboys and Wild West memorabilia is evidence of his drive for adventure, exploration and risk.

"If there really is an end-to-life, we need to fix it," Pizer says of his dream and hope for scientific immortality. The "patient bay" room where he stands is not much larger than the great rooms in many Valley homes. The room houses eight stainless steel tanks of frozen corpses: 73 heads and bodies, plus 25 animals. "In a couple hundred years humans will not die," Pizer says, gazing at the tanks.

Here, Pizer has about two dozen friends and acquaintances currently chilling within a few feet of him. They are legally dead and frozen, and Pizer believes he will someday eat with them again, perhaps in an eternal life. Most mainstream scientists disagree, but Pizer has what they lack: faith. Cryonics is his hope and passion.

Walking back to the office at Alcor, Pizer asks the building manager why the back door is open and unlocked. He would like to think the security around here is consistently tighter. A lot could happen in the next 180 years, and if everything goes as planned, he'll be spending at least that long in here.

"The question is, can you take it with you? The question of the ages," Hoffman says. "Can you beat death and taxes like some of us are trying to do? The answer is a qualified maybe."