BC Prof explores new immortal legal/financial powers of dead people


The United States is a very good place to be dead; better than almost anywhere, legally speaking. Ray Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School who specializes in trusts and estates, lays out evidence for that in her book called Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead. Other nations have their own strong points, many of which Madoff discusses. But in choosing a place to live when you’re dead, “USA forever” is the slogan for you.


Madoff is a detective on the trail of a curious question: What innovations have made it increasingly possible for dead people — dead wealthy people, mostly — to have virtually unending financial powers over living people? She dissects and savors many modern innovations: legal arrangements called dynasty trusts; certain twists in the setup of some charitable foundations; the arrangements that lay clammy, cold hands on the behavior of Elvis impersonators and other reenactors of deceased-yet-still-desired celebrities; and more, much more.

Other scholars, too, are analyzing pieces of this grand financial perpetuity game. Madoff is perhaps preeminent in stressing how, in the long run, banks and financial service providers are more likely than anyone else, living or dead, to enjoy the long tail of income. Many of these new arrangements, she told me, are “simply creating opportunities for banks to exact fees for a very, very long time.”

If you’re thinking of freezing your biophysical assets — that is, freezing your body after you die, in hopes that someone will some day revive you and give you all the money you dreamed of taking with you — look at a study called “Personal Revival Trusts: If You Can’t Take It with You, Can You Come Back to Get It?” It’s about the kind of arrangements possible if you seek cold comfort with the company called Alcor Life Extension — the place where Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams went after his playing and living days were over. Igor Levenberg, a law student, published it in the St. John’s Law Review, in 2009. (Thanks to Kevin Baum for bringing this to my attention.)

Levenberg writes, using professionally obtuse language:

The primary advantage of such a classification is that the cryopreserved beneficiary could be named as the sole beneficiary of a PRT [Personal Revival Trusts]; there will not be any other beneficiaries who receive trust funds or have the power to modify or terminate the trust. … The Alcor Patient Care Trust For the purposes of this Note, the most pertinent example of a trust with conditions subsequent is the Alcor Patient Care Trust (“APCT”). … If cryonauts choose to opt out of the APCT or similar arrangements and instead create their own perpetual trusts for the care of their “graves,” then they should also be able to insert a condition subsequent stipulating that such trusts be terminated upon their revival and the trust funds dispersed to their revived selves. … The issues raised by such trusts, just like the trusts themselves, are novel and intimately tied to the technological developments surrounding cryonics.


Marc Abrahams is the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine and organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes.
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