Dynasty Trusts, Egyptian Funeral Rites, Cryonics, and the Law

Estate planners establishing a dynasty trust

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The ancient Egyptians had an elaborate set of funerary practices that they believed were necessary to ensure their immortality after death. These rituals included mummifying the body, casting magic spells, and burials with specific grave goods thought to be needed in the afterlife (Wikipedia). Unfortunately, grave goods did not usually stay with the deceased but were simply stolen.

Several thousand years later, some members of our society, including the demigods of Hollywood, opt for a similarly elaborate procedure to insure immortality: cryonics. Cryopreservation is a well-established process for storing cells and tissues to maintain their viability. Think frozen eggs or sperm. In contrast, cryonics is “the practice of freezing a person who has died of a disease in hopes of restoring life at some future time when a cure for the disease has been developed” (Merriam-Webster). Whether cryonics works or not, is not the subject of this article. Instead, this topic brings up some interesting estate planning concepts and questions.

The Revival Trust – The modern analogue of grave goods

It is not clear when science will be able to revive frozen bodies, whether death was caused by disease or old age. Regardless, once you are revived, you do not want to subsist on government social support, whatever shape and form it may have in a few hundred years. Trusts are extremely flexible instruments. Could they help fund your new-found afterlife? Perhaps, but it won’t be your ordinary irrevocable trust. Some modifications are required. These special trusts are called Revival Trusts. Revival trusts are dynasty trusts with special features. Let’s talk about those.

Dynasty trusts defeat the English Rule against Perpetuities

US law adopted the 17th century English Rule against Perpetuities (RAP) which means that a trust cannot hold onto your assets forever. It was a reform measure to prevent land from being monopolized by one family for generations, perhaps never again to be put to any good use. The RAP did not exclude land from passings by inheritance and staying in the family anyway. It was instead aimed at legal instruments that would do this (the hand that rules from the grave), not successive independent decisions of individuals. In the 17th century the focus was on real estate. Currently, the formulation is neutral. In California it reads: A nonvested property interest is invalid unless one of the following conditions is satisfied: (a) When the interest is created, it is certain to vest or terminate no later than 21 years after the death of an individual then alive. (b) The interest either vests or terminates within 90 years after its creation. CA Prob Code § 21205 (2018). If you are confused, do not worry. The point is the interest cannot go on forever. But if you must, read about the RAP here on this blog.

There are good arguments for keeping the rule, and good arguments against it. Enter the Dynasty Trust. There are some states that have recreated real ‘perpetuities’ (they last until the end of time), South Dakota, is an example. Others are more conservative with the duration: 1,000 years (e.g., Wyoming) or a measly 365 years (e.g., Nevada). A list of 12 states with the perceived advantages and disadvantages are easy to find via Google search. For your Revival Trust you should definitely choose a long-lived trust. Perhaps 1,000 years is a safe bet.  

Trusts need to have a beneficiary, unless …

Ordinarily, all trusts, other than for charitable purposes, need to have a trust corpus (assets) and a beneficiary; a trustee can always be found. A person who is legally dead is no longer a person under the law, at least not current law, and cannot be a beneficiary. This means the long-lasting dynasty trust cannot benefit the entity on ice.

Pets are also not persons. Regardless, trusts have been established for them. They used to be called honorary trusts because reliance was placed on the honor of the trustee to carry out the wishes of the trustmaker; they could not be legally enforced. Pet trusts are now legally enforceable in many states, including California. They fall under the general rubric of ‘purpose trusts’, which is a misnomer, because all trusts have a purpose. What is meant is while they have no legal beneficiary, they do have a specific purpose.

Purpose Trusts

Even in states where they exist. Such as Tennessee, only a small minority of trust lawyers have heard of Purpose Trusts (see here). Wyoming, amongst others, allows noncharitable trust without an ascertainable beneficiary WY Stat § 4-10-410 (1997 through Reg Sess).

Revival Trust

So here we go, in Wyoming we can have a trust that lasts for 1,000 years and may have the purpose of funding the after-life and, perhaps even revival expenses, of a legally dead body when the time comes. There are other states, of course, where these so-called revival trusts are possible.

Practical problems

Planning for the future is always difficult but planning for the next 1,000 years ups the ante. The trustee needs to be a bank or trust company that has a strong performance history during at least the last 500 years. At least that would be my recommendation.  The trustee needs to have a dynasty of trust protectors at their side to advise them about periodic adjustments in trust provisions. These trust protectors must also be perpetuated. Stocks may have had a split, or two, etc. Currencies may change names. Tax law change all the time. Jurisdictions merge or vanish. Public policy may undergo some not-so-subtle changes, such as we have seen in our own history: It’s no longer OK to hang mentally ill people as witches.

Revival Trusts are a big bet, but so was putting valuable jewelry and other artifacts into the grave chamber of a pyramid. Tomb raiders were a big concern for Egyptians. They are still around. You find them everywhere, but especially among relatives, tax collectors and political activists.    


“I worry, when death is no longer certain, how can taxes be?” ascribed to Pharaoh Khufu (about 2551-2528 B.C.), Builder of the Great Pyramid.

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