Signing up for Cryonics: an incomplete and biased guide

Status: surprised no one has put this together yet, would have loved to have this 6 months ago. If you don’t know what cryonics is, good luck.

What this guide will cover:

  • The different steps necessary for signing up for cryonics.
  • Some choices that will have to be made in the process of signing up for cryonics, and some recommendations.

What this guide will not cover:

  • Whether cryonics is generally a good idea.
  • Whether or not cryonics is right for you.
  • Exhaustive detail on each choice in the cryonics process: for example, I won’t evaluate every life insurance provider in the US.

In other words, I will assume that you already want to get signed up for cryonics, and that you are facing the trivial inconvenience of learning more details about the process of signing up for cryonics, or what a normal process of signing up looks like, and that you are similar to American, June 2018 (~30 year old) me.

Finally, note that recommendations included are not chosen by some impartial arbiter: all judgments and recommendations are based on my incomplete knowledge, and no attempt to correct for my biases was made. If you make important life choices based solely on this guide (eg. signing up for cryonics), you might end up making bad choices, and we will wonder how you could have been so naive as to trust a random person on the internet.

TLDR/Summary

First, choose your cryonics provider and procedure:

  • Alcor, if you can afford it.
    • Choose neuropreservation (just brain freezing) if you want a cheaper Alcor option, and don’t care about preserving your body[1].
  • Cryonics Institute (CI), if you can’t afford Alcor.

Second, choose your type of life insurance:

Third, choose your insurance provider. Rudi Hoffman is the cryonics insurance agent, but you can go through another agent or try doing it yourself as well.

These recommendations might not be good if:

  • You are not young and reasonably healthy.
  • You plan on being outside of America when you get old and likely to die.

Choice 1: Cryonics Providers

There are two major cryonics institutions in the US: Alcor and the Cryonics Institute (CI). There are more cryonics companies, but due to time constraints I decided to pass on seriously evaluating them. In particular, I was lazy and wanted an established company so I could free ride on other people’s opinions[2]. If you are outside the US, service by these organizations will likely be more expensive or worse than usual, and it may make sense to evaluate other cryonics organizations.

Alcor

Alcor is higher profile[3], seemingly more established[4], and more expensive: the total cost for Alcor is $100k for neuropreservation (just the brain) and $220k for whole body preservation, with an additional annual membership fee of $525.

Notes about the above cost, particularly about options not included above:

  • The normal prices for Alcor are $80k for neuro and $200k for whole body: why are the prices I provide above $20k higher?

    Standby (stabilization and transportation of your body) can be paid for with either a $180/year fee, or by committing to an extra $20k payment on death, in addition to the freezing costs. If you end up paying for cryonics via life insurance (detailed in the next section), an extra $20k of coverage should work out to less than $180/year in insurance premiums, especially if you are young. Therefore, I ignored the annual standby fee option and included the $20k in the costs above.

    (Standby is technically just the process of having people that can stabilize and transport close by when a patient is close to death. Speed to freeze after death is important, so a dedicated team makes sense. However, I’m going to simply group all the costs related to standby, stabilization, and transport under standby for ease of reference, instead of repeating “standby, stabilization, and transport” a bunch of times.)

  • You can pay membership fees more frequently than annually, but the more frequent payments add up to a more expensive rate (but only marginally, $134 quarterly dues add up to $536). I have no idea why you would both pay more money and inconvenience for the more frequent option.
  • The membership fees can be discounted if you are a student, or if you have a family member who is already signed up for cryonics.

Cryonics Institute

The Cryonics Institute (CI) is seen as more of a mom n’ pop budget organization, with concomitant lower costs: CI offers whole body preservation for $28k (CI does not offer a neuropreservation option[5]). Membership costs a one-time fee of $1250.

CI also does not handle standby directly (stabilization and transportation of your body), so you will need to contract that out separately. For example, if you use the services of Suspended Animation (SA; referenced here by CI), you could pay between $37.5k[6] and $60k for successful transport to CI. One can also pay for standby services via life insurance (detailed in part 2).

Notes about the above costs:

  • Regarding membership fees, there is also an option to pay an annual instead of a one-time fee. However, it costs $120/year (vs. $1250), and you have to pay a higher $35k procedure fee (vs. $28k), which adds up to not a good idea for anyone.
  • SA has lots of options, which can lower your costs a lot if you know when/how you are going to die (ex. if you have aggressive terminal cancer).

Cost Notes

Bringing the costs together again:

Alcor: $100k – $220k, $525/year. Depends on whether you choose neuro or whole body.

CI: $65.5k – $88k. Combines CI and SA costs.

Important! Note that these prices could rise at any time: in the beginning of cryonics, members were locked in at the price when they signed up, so if they died 30 years after signing up, the procedure may have become a lot more expensive (say, simply due to inflation, or advances in technique) but they would still be paying prices from 30 years ago. This predictably turned out to be financially unworkable, since the cryonics organizations suddenly needed to either get into the business of projecting when their members would die, or needed to eat the potentially large differentials between current and future cryonics costs (see Gwern’s capture of Alcor hand-wringing about this problem, and Rudi talking about the funding change). Instead of doing that, the organizations now require new members to cover the cryonics cost at the time of death: if this is 50 years from now, the costs may be significantly different than what they currently are.

Additionally, standby costs for tricky situations may be a higher than normal: see this case of a patient being airlifted with funds provided beyond the costs stated above, and the potential need to pay for extra days of standby with SA.

The bottom line is that you will want to over fund your cryonics procedure relative to current prices. How much of a margin to over fund by is up to you, and strongly depends on how old you are: the younger you are, the more time prices have to grow. For reference, I am funding my procedure at 3x current prices, which I arrived at by spitballing and not rigorous modeling. You can compare this with the guy that runs the site fightaging.org, who is over funding by 2x (at an unknown age). Also for reference, see Alcor’s past prices[7] (I could not find any CI charts).

Alcor vs CI

It seems like people generally recommend Alcor if you can afford it, and CI otherwise:

Also note that the president of CI went on a charm offensive in 2016, popping up in a number of places on the internet (Quora/r/cryonics thread)[9].

Let’s break this down to a case study: Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky (from We Agree, Get Froze) are signed up for Alcor and CI respectively (source), which fits since Robin the tenured professor can afford Alcor, and Eliezer the non-profit researcher[10] would have a harder time doing so.

For reference, I went with Alcor.

Choice 2: How to Pay for Cryonics

Now, let’s talk about paying for that big-ass freezing fee[11].

(And reminder: I Am Not An Accountant[12]. If you uncritically take all the following assertions at face value, you deserve as much sympathy as someone that believes that someone on Reddit just gave them a hot tip about dogecoin ie. no sympathy at all.)

Most people don’t have $220k laying around. Even if they did, the organizations can’t accept your word that you will pay them those thousands of dollars, because you will be dead and unable to do things. You can will them the money, but people contest wills all the time, and the organizations can’t wait weeks or months for your will to settle: you need to be frozen as soon as possible to save as much brain structure as possible.

You could deposit money for the process with the cryonics organization, but the organizations won’t invest in risky equities, so your deposit might not keep up with procedure price increases. Plus, that’s a huge amount of money to be tied up for most people.

Instead, the usual way to pay for the service is to use life insurance. If you die, the policy pays out a guaranteed amount after death, when the money is needed. And, if you make the cryonics organization the owner of the policy (as suggested), it is difficult to drag the policy into a will battle, since it’s not an asset owned by the deceased. Problems, neatly solved.

(If you’re concerned about insurance fraud, because cryonics is all about a last ditch effort[13] to fight death, consider that life insurance companies are making the same amount of money on cryonicists as anyone else, since the insurance pays out on legal death, which is a lower standard than information-theoretic death. Besides, we don’t even know if cryonics works.[14])

There are two broad types of life insurance.

  • Term: coverage lasts for a fixed term, usually 10, 20, 30 years. You keep paying in premiums, and if you die within the coverage window, the policy pays out. Once the term is up, you will need to get another term policy. Term premiums are cheaper, which makes sense when you consider around 97% of people do not die while covered by term insurance[15]. On the flip side, if you’re old or sick, a new term policy will be expensive, perhaps to the point that you would be uninsurable.
  • Indexed universal life (IUL) (replacing older whole life insurance[16]): coverage lasts for your entire life, or whenever the cash value funds run out. As a simplified model, you can consider the policy as a growing fund that you pay into, with fees taken out of the fund to pay for an ongoing term-like policy in the background. The exact way the fund grows seems to be the main difference between the different sorts of whole/universal life: for example, IUL could peg growth to the S&P 500, hence the “indexed” (with some caveats, which we will cover below). The fund growth is important to offset the effects of growing fees as you grow older, and hence more likely to die[17].

It’s common wisdom that “term is better than whole” (including whole variants like IUL), which seems to usually be correct. Consider a more normal insurance scenario, in which a single income household wants to cover the death of the breadwinner while the kids grow up: in this case, 20 year term would cover the kids growing up, and afterwards the children are adults and can responsibly decide to squander their money on avocado toast and cronuts.

In the case of cryonics, though, one really does want coverage until they die, so whole life makes much more sense despite having higher premiums.

(Note the IUL premiums aren’t intrinsically higher, but are effectively higher due to needing to cover your entire life, and following the suggestion of paying in higher premiums earlier helps grow the fund portion of the policy to help cover the higher fees later in life.)

That said, term insurance can make sense, but only if you are currently budget constrained, won’t be budget constrained in the future, and want to avoid cryo-crastinating[18] (you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise, right?). If you’re a university student, 10 year term life insurance should be cheap, and bridge you into a future where you have a job and the ability to pay for an IUL policy.

Let’s expand on the IUL a bit more. So you pay into the policy, and any funds left over grow pegged to an index like the S&P 500 (the indexed part of Indexed Universal Life). And that’s not all:

If you really want, you can squint at it and try and treat the entire package as a Roth IRA[19] without contribution limits[20].

This sounds too good to be true! How are we paying for this lunch? Or, what’s in it for the insurance company?[21]

  • There’s a cap on maximum yearly account growth (ex. if the index grows 20%, but the cap is 12%, the account will only grow 12%).
  • Or, there’s a cap on the proportion of the account that can “participate” in the market (ex. if the market grows 20%, but the participation rate is 75%, the account will only grow 15%).
  • These caps can be changed at the insurance company’s discretion (with the understanding that efficient markets means the companies aren’t going to give you awful rates for no reason; however, you can bet that they’re going to choose rates that will make this a worse “investment” vehicle than a normal brokerage account).
  • The market growth does not include dividends: putting dividends back into the market can account for a large portion of a normal investment account’s growth, and the indices are usually pegged to price returns sans dividends/interest, not total return.
  • Even if the cash account growth is floored at 0%, inflation effectively adds in negative growth on down years.
  • Surrendering the policy (ending the policy to access the cash value of the policy) means paying income taxes on any gains over premiums already paid. Using loans to cash out the policy is questionable: it’s illegal to sell IULs as an investment, which makes me wonder if some regulator is going to nail tax-evasive IUL usage to the wall at some point.

Taken all together, IULs are not a good investment[22]. But, it works for our purposes: we want a vehicle that will pay out a guaranteed amount on death, will at least attempt to keep up with inflation, doesn’t require a huge upfront investment, and avoids uninsurability problems with other schemes[23]. Given these upsides, it’s not surprising that life insurance is how most cryonicists pay for the procedure.

And to give you an idea of ballpark life insurance costs:

  • At 31yo, $500k coverage, 30 year term: $43/mo. (source)
  • At 31yo, $100k coverage, 30 year term: $14.55/mo[24].
  • Myself, at ~30yo, $240k coverage, IUL: ~$110/mo.

And as of 2018, Alcor’s site has a table of age vs life insurance coverage in the midst of their funding options page.

There are quote engines on the internet that will give you more ballpark estimates, especially if your age or coverage needs are different. But note, again, these are estimates, and your actual rates may vary depending on the underwriting process.

Choice 3: Choose your insurance provider

There are a multitude of insurance providers out there. However, some of them aren’t suitable for our purposes: they need to be okay with the policy being used for a cryonics procedure, and we need to be able to assign the cryonics organization as the policy owner.

(Note we’re not giving up any flexibility by doing this ownership transfer: at least Alcor (and probably CI also) will sign an agreement stating that they will hand back ownership of the policy on request (Alcor example) if you don’t want to be signed up for cryonics any longer.)

You could ask Alcor/CI for a list of preferred insurance agents, but you would do worse than to default to Rudi Hoffman, who’s also signed up for cryonics himself. You can request an insurance quote from his website.

Fair warning: having gone through the process with Rudi, I can why see why Alicorn decided not to go through Rudi due to a personality conflict. Rudi is very much a salesperson, and I can see that certain people would be turned off by salesman-like rapport building. However, unless you are dead certain that you cannot work with such salespeople, I would recommend at least going through the first 5-15 minute call and seeing if you really can’t work with him. It would be a shame if you couldn’t take advantage of Rudi’s up to date market knowledge.

And if you find you really can’t work with Rudi? Alicorn did it herself through New York Life, but that was back in 2012, and the markets may have changed. You’ll have to shop around, and I don’t have any particular insight there.

The Sign Up Process

Once you’ve made your choices, now it’s time to make it happen.

Sign up for Life Insurance

If you go through Rudi, what does the process look like?

  • Do an introductory call, chat about your choices about cryonics organization, life insurance type, and the amount of coverage you want.
  • (Possibly IUL specific) Rudi sends you an illustration, which outlines some worst/average case scenarios. I’m guessing this is required to highlight the market based nature of the account, that no rate of return is guaranteed, and ongoing costs could eat into paid in premiums.
  • Verbally assent that the illustration looks good.
  • Receive the full life insurance application, fill it out and send it in. You will likely need to provide the 1st month of payment, or some way of charging you.
  • As part of the application process, go through a call with a nurse, who will take your medical history.
  • Do a physical exam, which the life insurance company will contract out. You’ll likely need to fast for half a day before the exam, and the exam will likely include a blood draw[25].
  • Wait a couple weeks, get your shiny new policy in the mail! (For example, mine took 7 weeks to arrive from when I mailed my application in, not accounting for delays in taking my history or physical examination. If you are on point and get back to the insurance company promptly, you will probably have a faster turn around time.)

Sign up for Cryonics

I’ll be detailing the steps for Alcor.

  • Print out the cryonics application, fill it out (you can do most of it on the computer with PDF form filling), send it to Alcor. This requires an application fee of $300, and making choices like “what should happen to my remains if I die in an remote location and am not discovered for years?” These choices will feed into the exact text that is included in the agreement.

    You don’t necessarily need to wait until the life insurance process is done to send in the application, and can fill out the insurance details in the agreement you’ll get later. However, note that there’s a $90 fee if you take more than 4 months to finish the application process once you’ve started[26].

  • Alcor will send back an full agreement with legal verbiage matching your choices in the initial application. If you didn’t fill out your insurance information in the application, fill it out on the policy transfer agreement. This step may be redundant, since Rudi may have sent your insurance policy to the cryonics organization.

    In addition to signing all the documents, you’ll need to get 2 witnesses to sign most of the documents, as well as get the included Last Will notarized. Banks will notarize documents; since my bank didn’t have a branch in my area, I went down to the UPS Store and got notarization services there for $2. Note you’ll need to get both your signature and your witnesses’ signatures notarized at the same time, so you’ll need to find some time that’s good for all the parties involved.

(Side note: the agreement contains a list of detailing the plethora of ways cryonics can go wrong or fail to work. If you’re not sure you want to sign up for cryonics, I recommend reading this list first (available on Alcor’s website, starting on page 2 in section 9), before you spend lots of time and money on the process only to bail at this step.)

  • Wait about a week, and you’ll get back a packet, with a counter-signed copy[27] of the agreement, as well as necklace/wrist tags/wallet cards detailing what needs to happen in the event of your death[28].

Congratulations! You’re now signed up for cryonics.

Post-signup

There are some additional steps you should probably take.

  • Let your family know that you’ve signed up for cryonics, and make sure they are willing to support your cryonics procedure. There’s at least one horror story where the family of someone signed up for cryonics hid the fact that the cryonicists died (and embalmed them!), so they could try to get the insurance payout. If your family will not support you in the cryonics process, you may want to make sure to adjust your will’s executor and power of attorney to someone that will.

    Alcor also recommends getting family members to sign a relative’s affidavit, but that isn’t as important as making sure they know you’re signed up for cryonics, and support it.

  • Tell your friends you’re signed up for cryonics. While it doesn’t seem as helpful as telling your family[29], you may want to cover your bases and make sure the non-family people that will be most likely to be around you know your wishes regarding cryonics and will call the cryonics organization if something happens, and are in a position to advocate for you if your family has a change of heart.
  • Wear the cryonics bracelet/necklace. This is probably not especially helpful, since it seems more likely that you’ll die of a cause you see coming, or you will die around people that know your wishes. However, if we’re already relying on long tail chances to succeed, it may make sense to cover the long tail failures with low-cost coverage.

Hopefully this guide has cleared up the moving parts around signing up for cryonics, and served as a good introduction to the process. Let me know if anything is confusing, or differed in your own cryonics sign up experience[30].

And remember: live forever, or die trying!


[1]  Some people worry that the nervous system outside of the brain will play a role in personality/subjective continuity. Maybe they’re right.

[2]  On the other hand, having another company would be great for redundancy; right now if something went wrong to Alcor/CI for reasons unrelated to being a cryonics company, that would be bad for the cryonics market in the US. Having another major player would reduce the chances of catastrophic failure.

[3]  Part of this fame is due to suing relatives that refuse to allow their clients to get frozen.

[4]  People seem to believe that Alcor has more employees, but Wikipedia’s Alcor page lists their employee count as 8 (as of 2016/06), which implies that CI is really on a shoestring budget.

[5]  This seems fine, since the entire point of a neuro option is to be cheaper, and CI is already inexpensive.

[6]  Using the prepaid incremental plan $7.5k + the $30k completion fee. This is pretty aggressive, and I would be worried about the lack of flexibility, but the nice thing is that CI+SA allows you to make the call yourself.

[7]  Obviously, past performance does not guarantee future performance.

[8]  I remember reading a critical piece with more specific criticisms, but now I can’t find it. Sorry.

[9]  Also thought I saw him in more places, but when I went back, I didn’t have it all in one place, and couldn’t find it all.

[10]  I really, really wanted to put “math messiah” as his profession instead.

[11]  But why does cryonics cost so damn much? It wasn’t obvious this would be the case: you can read about early cryonicists projecting that demand for cryonics would become so large that economies of scale would kick in, and cryonics would cost $8.5k. Instead, in 2018, I have an Alcor ID number in the low 3000’s, which extends over 46 years of operation (Alcor was founded in 1972). That’s not scale by any stretch of the imagination.

[12]  Even if I were an accountant, I’m not your accountant.

[13]  Strangely, cryonics is a last ditch effort to avoid being lowered into a last ditch.

[14]  In that regard, you could also apply the same line of thought to any religion with an afterlife: “Ha! My life insurance company thought I died, but in reality I transcended to heaven and now my earthly family has all this money!”

[15]  The exact wording is “97% of term policies do not result in a death benefit”, which isn’t exactly the same as 97% of people not dying. I presume the wording is the way it is due to fraud cases.

[16]  It seems like the main benefit is lower costs from having the policyholder hold the risky investments.

[17]  Obviously, this doesn’t cover potential life extension; if people start routinely living to 200, problems are bound to happen. On the other hand, you might not even need cryonics if we hit life extension escape velocity.

[18]  Like many things, people put off signing up for cryonics. Unlike many things, signing up for cryonics has to be done before you die, and can’t be easily done for you by another person, so procrastinating on this particular thing is particularly bad. It can be done if everyone knows that you want it, support your decision, are willing to put in large sums of money into the process, and can make it happen while grieving: for example, see this case study (I vaguely remember seeing a case study that started after death, but I can’t find it). You’re already rolling the dice with vanilla cryonics, why gamble some more with whether your loved ones can get you frozen without prior arrangements?

[19]  “Withdrawals” appear to be done via loans against the IUL policy. As the breathless tone of the article might tip you off, the maneuver is not exactly not shady.

[20]  IRA contributions top out around several thousand dollars per year.

[21]  “Contributing” to profitability is not a bad thing: you don’t want your insurance company to go out of business, especially 30 years from now when it will be much more difficult for you to get favorable life insurance rates.

[22]  Unless you have absolute Fuck Tons(tm) of money, in which case you might actually want whole life insurance for estate planning. Have fun talking to an accountant.

[23]  Consider another approach, where we implement something like whole life ourselves: we create a 10 year term insurance ladder, renewing a policy every 10 years, and pay for it with normal investments which don’t have the same IUL restrictions. The main problem with this is that you have to have a new insurance policy underwritten every 10 years, during which you might become uninsurable. Same problem with doing a 30 year term and then dumping normal investment money into an IUL. If you plan on making so much money that pre-paying $220k is chump change, then good for you, but this guide is not for you.

[24]  The table must have a typo: there’s no way prices jump up $10 from 30-31yo, and then back down for 31-32yo.

[25]  You may get to see your blood panel results, if your insurance provider shares the data with you.

[26]  This isn’t necessarily consumer hostile: when people are known to cyrocrastinate, a financial penalty might help people get over the last hump. It doesn’t seem likely that people start signing up for cryonics without knowing what they’re getting into, where they suddenly change their minds 4 months into the process.

[27]  If you want a counter-signed original for your records, you may need to print an additional set of documents or otherwise request it: I only received one set of documents.

[28]  Hopefully, you will know that you’re dying ahead of time, and be able to convey to your doctors that you are signed up for cryonics, and to please cooperate with the standby team. Even more ideally, you dodge death entirely.

[29]  Looking over the 8 cases in 2018 so far, it looks like many cases are living in hospice care, when there is ample time to explain the patient’s cryonics wishes. In the most dynamic case, the patient choked to death, but his family was around to alert Alcor and explain the situation. And in the worst outcome, no amount of telling people about the patients cryonics wishes would have helped, since the patient died and wasn’t discovered for some amount of time.

[30]  I can’t guarantee that I can integrate everything into this specific guide. I’m thinking it might be a good idea to create a more general guide that does try to cover the entire possible decision tree. Let me know if you’re interested in such a project.

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