This is the fourth in a series of interviews with individuals in the life extension and cryonics movement. Rudi Hoffman is an Alcor and CI member and the most prominent seller of cryonics life insurance policies. His website with information about how to fund cryonics can be found here.
Did you find out about cryonics before or after you became an insurance agent? How has each field impacted the other in your life?
In 1978 and 1979…Gee, that seems like a long time ago…I was teaching 5th grade math and science. Since I was making the, even then, paltry sum of $6,200 a year teaching, a friend of mine recruited me into the insurance and investment field.
I was recruited by a very controversial, but consumer oriented, company called “A.L. Williams Corporation” to sell term life insurance and mutual funds. The first several years in the business, I managed to decrease my already low income, while increasing my personal overhead dramatically.
A very uncomfortable combination. Perhaps some of your readers can relate, either currently or in their early careers. If you are frustrated, if you are broke, if you are worried…believe me, I have been there. It is supposed to be character building, and maybe it was, but mostly it was simply terrifying.
I recall an exciting day when one of the people who I was renting a room to called me at the office to inform me that our water had been shut off due to late payment. At the time I was also three months late on my house payment, had fixed costs thousands of dollars higher than my income, and was in truly desperate and uncomfortable financial straights. But, due to both a crusader’s zeal about the concept that A.L. Williams was championing financially for the consumer, and an abysmal lack of the good sense to quit and “get a good job,” in a matter of a few more years I eventually proceeded to do something called “making a living.”
So, I have been selling life insurance and securities investments since 1979. At some point, starting somewhere after the 25 year point of ridiculous dues paying, I have been approaching what some may call successful at it.
I have been selling cryonics life insurance, starting with my own cryonics policy, since 1994, when I signed up with Alcor.
Do you think that having cryonics arrangements yourself helps you write more policies?
Yes, I do.
It is a proverb in the sales business that “sales is a TRANSFER OF FEELING.” I was personally signed up and ideologically on board with cryonics well before I sold anyone else a cryonics policy. Being a signed cryonicist is a serious decision for me, and I think that cryonics is SUCH a rational and reasonable gamble that nearly everyone should at least consider this option.
What is the most common/pervasive myth or fallacy about cryonics you hear from people contacting you for insurance?
The general feeling of the uninformed populace is that “Cryonics is only for rich guys.” It is my passion, as well as my profession, to dispel this pernicious and potentially deadly lie. Cryonics is AFFORDABLE for most people who are in good health living in a developed country. This is because of the magical leverage of life insurance, in which a few dollars a day can create a fund of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars exactly when these funds are needed.
I recall that you have been turned down by at least one insurance company because they did not like the cryonics industry. Some people fear that progress in the science of human cryopreservation will make insurance companies less inclined to write policies. Do you agree?
I have been running my more traditional financial planning practice for about thirty years. During the last fifteen years we have incorporated the cryonics life insurance, and increasingly cryonics estate planning, as part of the financial planning practice.
ARGUING WITH IDIOTS
In this time, I have learned some astounding facts. Here is one. “Insurance company executives, and their legal staffs, can be stunningly stupid, remarkably retrograde, and frustratingly fickle.” In short, some are TRULY idiots. Here’s why I know this.
As an independent broker and Certified Financial Planner (R), I have access to literally hundreds of life insurance companies to write for my friends and clients. One would think, logically, that insurance companies would be THRILLED to have a market composed of cryonicists. We are, demonstrably and documentably, one of the most highly educated, prosperous, and long lived niche markets anyplace. We tend to be nonsmokers, health enthusiasts, seat belt wearers, and not take life threatening risks. We are proactive in our own self-care and health maintenance. We take vitamins and anti-aging nutrients, practice reduced calorie diets, and see our doctors prophylactically and often.
But, because the cryonics organizations require that they be the OWNERS as well as the partial beneficiaries of the cryonics funding policies, insurance companies by a huge majority do NOT want our business!
If you find this counter-intuitive, surprising, and virtually unbelievable, I would not blame you.
But, because cryonics is still far from mainstream, and because the insurance companies confuse the cryonics OWNED policies with a category of policies they do not like called “Stranger Owned Life Insurance” (STOLI) policies, most carriers will not provide a letter of approval for this type of business.
And, I don’t just want to “slide a policy in under the radar” of the legal or compliance department at an insurance company. I insist that the insurance company UNDERSTAND and acknowledge in writing that these are cryonics policies. I believe in business candor and transparency, and I have sometimes worked for years to get a letter of approval for our cryonics business.
Moreover, I have personally been FIRED, literally received a termination letter, from at least three major companies because I had sent them virtually exclusively cryonics related policies.
A MORE PROFESSIONAL SOUNDING CAVEAT
To be fair, like other generalizations, there are exceptions to the trend. There are companies and organizations who are very supportive and professional in helping us fund cryonics. I am privileged to work with some outstandingly talented colleagues and collaborators who do indeed, “Get it.”
With reference to the second part of the question, as cryonics becomes more mainstream, and even further proof of concept emerges in the scientific world, we will have carriers enthusiastic about this wonderful block of business. It is my intention to have full departments within major insurance carriers who will help us fund suspension and cryonics estate planning.
What is the minimum amount of life insurance that you recommend for cryonics (in 2009)?
The short answer would be $250,000.
If you are a full body vitrification client at Alcor, you need $150,000 currently. If you are at CI, and you have the funding for Suspended Animation and air ambulance services, you need a minimum of about $110,000. Here are the three LOGICAL and RATIONAL reasons to have a generous amount of OVERFUNDING over the above figures:
REASON NUMBER ONE: The traditional reason people own life insurance:
You probably have loved ones you care about, and possibly provide income for. This would include spouses, partners, children, pets, friends, and even causes you are passionate about. If you have NO ONE, and NO ORGANIZATION, you care about and want to see thrive financially, you are probably screwing up your life pretty badly and need to make some changes.
There is a difference between being an Ayn Rand Objectivist who understands ideologically the “Virtue of Selfishness,” and being a selfish jerk who is too dumb, lazy, or shortsighted to have some life insurance to help take care of those you care about. Especially if one of those people you care about is yourself…or, more precisely, your FUTURE self.
Life insurance, especially modern permanent policies, are “LONG TERM SMART” leverage of resources. If you make $30,000 a year, it would take a lump sum of $300,000 to replace your income, even assuming a generous 10% after tax return on investment.
I am far from wealthy. But I own 2 million, three hundred thousand dollars of life insurance on my life. I pay for this personally, like any other consumer. It costs me a substantial part of my annual income. But, I have a wife I truly love and want to care for, and organizations doing great work I want to support, and several cryonics trusts I want to fund with life insurance proceeds.
You, dear reader, surely care about SOMETHING outside of your skin. This is because we hope you are RATIONALLY SELF INTERESTED. Life insurance is your love made visible. It is a document of long term love and commitment to those you care about.
REASON NUMBER TWO: Due to inflation and technological progress, the price points in cryonics almost certainly will rise over time:
Although cryonics organizations have historically grandfathered earlier client rates, this is not contractually guaranteed going forward.
And the preliminary research on the next technological enhancement in cryonics, Intermediate Temperature Storage (ITS), looks to be a major improvement in saving your precious self. But, like other major improvements in medicine, this will come at a price. Due to increased engineering challenges and much higher liquid nitrogen boiloff rates, the price will almost certainly be higher even for current members. NOT to charge an increase for even existing clients would be irresponsible.
It makes sense to lock your current good health and younger age rates in now. You may not be able to get more coverage in the future at ANY price, and it will certainly be at a higher price.
REASON NUMBER THREE: You can specify a portion of your life insurance policy go to one or more CRYONICS TRUSTS:
Cryonics trusts exist. They may not be perfected or tested. Like cryonics itself, they are our BEST EFFORTS at finding a way to solve a huge and previously intractable problem. But, they can be funded with LIFE INSURANCE, a much smarter way of leveraging your money, as well as providing tax and creditor advantages. This is the exact kind of thing wealthy and smart people have done for literally centuries with their money. The distinction is that we are using these marvelous tools to help fund cryonics, and preserving and creating future wealth for ourselves and those we care about.
You are currently writing a book. What can you tell us about it?
I have been working on this book since 2002. I hope to have it published in 2010. I also hope to make it available as a download on the web at minimal or no cost to my cryonics prospects and clients. The book is called, “THE AFFORDABLE IMMORTAL: THE EMERGING SCIENCE OF CRYONICS AND YOU.”
It is designed as an easy to read resource for folks potentially interested in cryonics. It explains, in a straightforward way, the fascinating world of life insurance, and how to use life insurance for cryonics.
It deals with some of the ideology of cryonics. And, an estate planning lawyer I work with who is an expert on cryonics trusts has a section on cryonics legacy planning that is the clearest explanation I have ever seen on this topic.
What is your take on the current state of wealth preservation for cryonics members?
HEY, LET’S BEAT BOTH DEATH AND TAXES!
The idea of “taking it with you” is not out of the bounds of reality anymore.
Cryonics itself is a “best efforts” intervention designed to enable whatever makes up “you” to take a time travel ride to the future. Cryonics trusts exist to enable your funds to grow at a rate somewhat higher than taxes and inflation, and compound and grow. These funds are earmarked to both enable the cryonics resuscitation process, and enable you to have funds to provide you with enhanced options in the astounding future that you may be revived in.
Of great concern, of course, are the details of cryonic estate planning. Including the question, “How do I find a trustee to manage and grow the money, who understands the concept of cryonics and my wishes, and who won’t run off with the money?”
There are structures in place to have oversight in depth for trustee arrangements. Currently, a small group of cryonicists are in process of developing a cryonics oriented trust company employing younger cryonicists as trustees for the accounts.
The bad news is that legitimate cryonics estate planning is not cheap. The better news is that some groundwork has been laid out by pioneers of this idea to make it more affordable than it used to be. And the actual funding of the cryonics trust can come from the leverage of life insurance. You can have a separate life insurance policy to fund the cryonics trust, or name the trust as a partial beneficiary of your cryonics policy. Setting up the cryonics trust has in the past involved tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Current trust prices range from 10,000 down to a few thousand for setup. And maybe a thousand a year for maintenance. The Hoffman Prototype Cryonics Trust has been made available at no cost to my clients, to be used by their attorneys as a template.
Part of the reason for the current emphasis on developing legitimate and solid cryonics trusts is this: Wealthier and older cryonicists CARE about being able to execute such trusts. And we NEED wealthier cryonicists who are willing to DONATE money to research optimal cryonics protocols.
There are literally MILLIONS of MILLIONAIRES, in the United States alone. Plus millions more throughout the world. Cryonics as a field is DESPERATE for the money these folks have in their pockets. The individuals are DESPERATE to find a legitimate way they can both make a positive difference in the world and have a chance for themselves and their loved ones to continue living.
We MUST find a way to help MERGE these highly motivated entities to develop the synergy that will fund the RESEARCH that will save your life.
You are a member of both major cryonics organizations (Alcor and CI). Why?
They are both excellent organizations. Alcor is my primary cryonics vendor. If there is a problem in the future with Alcor, or logistics or technological issues deem it optimal, I also wanted to be a member and have my funding set up for the Cryonics Institute.
I have friends and clients with both organizations. I also want to say what a remarkable job Ben Best and Andy Zawacki are doing at the Cryonics Institute to further the cause of genuine science and evidence based cryonics.
What do you consider the biggest challenges in today’s cryonics?
There are perhaps millions of forward thinking people who would sign up today if there existed clear documentation of a small animal returning from cryonic temperatures with all it’s systems and memories intact.
Yet, as large as the “no clear evidence for effective cryonics” problem is, there exists one that is even larger, in my opinion.
What could be a bigger detriment to the science and adoption of cryonics than “Hey, we can’t even prove this works?”
I’ll get to this below, in a later question.
Do you think that members should be more involved in Alcor’s formal decision making?
Not just “Yes,” but “Heck, yes!”
Especially at the pioneering stage this “long term startup” operations exists in, cryonics NEEDS genuine MEMBERS. A member is involved, engaged, pro-active, takes initiative to help the organization, volunteers time and money to further the organizations goals, and just, in general, PARTICIPATES in the organization.
For a whole series of reasons, some of which may be fixable, and some which may be intrinsic to growth and geography, many current cryonics members behave more like buyers of a commodity.They pay their life insurance, member dues, and think that this magically will be sufficient to give them a chance of indefinite lifespan. You people need to grow up out there. We are STILL in the pioneering phase of this movement. The appropriate metaphor is that we are in the same cryonics lifeboat…but it has numerous leaks.
We need members who ENGAGE in their own cryonics advocacy. Members who enable local networks of like minded people. Members who set up pre-planning with local doctors, funeral directors, and emergency medical personnel. Members who call their cryonics organization and say, “What can I do to HELP this movement, and what can I do to help secure a better suspension for myself and my loved ones?”
The readers of this website are the exceptions to the rule. Your readers, I suspect, are active proponents of this concept with their colleagues, out of the closet cryonicists who have the courage to be candid with their wish to not die in a mere few decades.
Alcor keeps growing but it has a lot of member cancellations as well. What can be done to prevent this?
Growth has been steady, but modest, for decades in cryonics. I would not be the first to describe cryonics as a “thirty year startup company.” Alcor recently passed the 900 member mark, and should go over 1000 in 2010.
WHY WE AS INDIVIDUALS NEED TO DEVELOP INTO CRYONICS ADVOCATES:
For whatever reason, only a low percentage of the cryonicists I am aware of REALLY feel like, “Hooray! We are part of a GRAND and MIND-BOGGLING experiment in indefinite life extension! We must pull together, develop networks and friendships, do INCONVENIENT and sometimes somewhat COSTLY events in which we get together. We must read the cryonics bulletin boards, help our organization recruit the BEST management talent for roles at Alcor and CI, and simply do what we can to make cryonics an EVIDENCE BASED SCIENCE”
Instead, we have the classic “Free rider” problem. Most cryonicists, and most everyone else as well, are extremely busy, wrapped up in their own trip, dealing with careers, family concerns, larger social concerns.
We are happy to see that Bill Faloon and Saul Kent are committing a reported ten million dollars a year to aging and cryonics research. But we can’t ALL be free riders on their largess. It is challenging to get free-thinking, anti-authoritarian, atheist oriented cryoncists to agree on a goal we can all get behind. There is currently NO thought leader who has defined a program that cryonicists can agree to support.
We need the equivalent of a Kennedy saying, “Before this decade is out, we commit to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
The cold war was the motivation behind the golden era of space development. (Of course, Kennedy could coerce millions and spend billions of coerced contributions…so the analogy is not perfect.)
SOME GOOD…MAYBE GREAT NEWS:
There is some behind-the-scenes work which can’t be announced yet that will excite even the most jaded and cynical of cryonicists. Leadership will be exercised, and progress will be shown, and a vision will be laid out that will generate a HUGE buzz in both the cryonics world and larger outside world.
Do you agree that Alcor should be able to sustain itself from membership dues without relying on outside donations?
Conceptually, yes. But raising dues to accomplish this is problematic for many at this juncture. The Alcor board has basically decided to do this, and I understand the rationale, but the timing is unfortunate.
How successful have you been in relating to others on the topic of cryonics? Do you think there are better or worse strategies for piquing interest in cryonics among the general public?
I am an unabashed cryonics advocate. I talk about it with most of my friends, family, and colleagues. Here is the hard teaching. It does not matter. Unless someone is READY for this idea, you probably are NOT going to get them interested. It does not matter how credible, enthusiastic, compelling, or intellectually rigorous you are.
Again, there are exceptions to this rule. Mostly they are these: An individual convinces his less enthusiastic spouse/partner to sign up. Parents pay for coverage on their children. And, a member pays the full cost of a life insurance AND dues AND startup fees for a friend or colleague, and handles most of the paperwork hassle for them.
I continually think about ways to promote this meme. The reality, learned after fifteen years of hurt feelings, potentially damaged relationships, and lots of intellectual hand-wringing and conversations with myself about how I can be more compelling, is that MOST people just are NOT interested.
Deal with it.
There will be some that are…and they will probably self-select the way you did.
I am hoping the current tabloid style “whistle blower” book by the almost certainly fraudulent huckster Larry Johnson will have a long term positive effect on cryonics awareness.
And, if I can get off my butt and get my book published and or promulgated somehow, this may help.
How long have you been married to Dawn and did she initially share your enthusiasm for cryonics?
I am happily married to Dawn, the love of my life, for 25 years last April. While she did not share my enthusiasm and initially declined to sign up, we WERE smart enough to buy an extra life insurance policy on her, initially naming me as beneficiary. When, in a wonderfully romantic event five years later on Valentine’s Day, she DID elect to surprise me with a sign-up, she just changed the beneficiary of her policy.
There is a lesson…perhaps several of them…for those perceptive enough to get it, in this true story.
Your writings are often critical of religion. Were you raised in a religious family? If so, what events had the most bearing on your development as an atheist?
OKAY! Here we go!
NOW we come to the real reason that cryonics is not a more popular idea and medical produce. Now we come to the “elephant in the room” that few dare even notice, let alone have the guts and political incorrectness to criticize.
Here’s the thing. If you REALLY believe you are going to heaven when you die, or even have some other vague and fuzzy brained notion of the reality of an afterlife, the odds are low that you are a very good cryonics prospect. This statement is based on PERSONALLY talking about these very ideas with literally HUNDREDS of cryonicists.
“Oh,” the accomodationists squeal, “Science and Religion don’t REALLY conflict. Cryonics and traditional religion are not remotely antithetical to each other. These two arenas deal with different areas of human experience, these are “non-overlapping magisteria”.
Well. There is no other word for the above paragraph but “BULLSHIT.” Sorry if this isn’t academic or erudite enough for you. Stephen Jay Gould was a smart man. But he was not smart enough to sign up for cryonics before he died of cancer…and he was not smart enough to see the OBVIOUS conflicts in epistemology and world view that exist between the religious mindset and the scientific worldview.
Of course, we’d expect most of us to be in something like the agnostic category, leaning toward the atheist end of that category.
What is more puzzling to many of us in the skeptical, rationalist, agnostic, atheist, bright, humanist, secular community is that the folks fitting these categories are STILL mostly not interested in cryonics!
Like many of your readers, I spend a huge amount of time thinking and reading in the areas of psychology, cognitive science, philosophy, religion, history, science, epistemology, and self improvement.
Some of the most influential thinkers in my worldview will be familiar to many of your readers. The “four horsemen of the rationalist atheist non-apocolypse” are the best selling authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, and Christopher Hitchins.
While all these guys are compelling, perhaps the most paradigm shifting read for me was Sam Harris’s “The End Of Faith.”
In this brilliant work, Harris documents not only the pernicious and evil effects of faith, (defined as believing without adequate evidence), but that the very IDEA of faith as a VIRTUE is intrinsically and deeply flawed.
Like many cryonicists and free thinkers, I was raised in a (rather wonderful) Christian family. My grandfather was the president of a Christian college (Anderson University, where I graduated from in 1975). I personally taught at Warner Christian Academy during 1977 and 1978.
While I did not believe the extremely unlikely and clearly cultural theology of these institutions, for many years I felt that the sense of community, and the genuinely positive effects of being a part of a community of folks trying hard to do “good,” superseded the negatives of believing in superstitions and nonsense.
I no longer feel this way.
As Sam Harris documents in his classic short book, “Letter to a Christian Nation,” the effects of believing in things that defy reason are, for lack of a better word, EVIL.
It is just plain WRONG to believe things without good reason to do so!
You have not only been a vocal advocate of cryonics but of limited government as well. As an insurance agent, what do you make of the ongoing attempt to transform health insurance companies into highly regulated providers of entitlements?
Wow…sounds like a political question I will graciously defer till I can get your readers around a table with some beers and coffee and we can rant about this! I will mention that cryonicists are disproportionatly of a libertarian mindset…again, not a surprising fact.
Everyone who knows you is familiar with your holiday-themed greeting cards (where you and your dogs are completely decked out in holiday-specific costumes and surrounded by festive holiday decor) — do you actually own all the costumes and scenery, or is it rented just for the photos?
We love holidays, and enjoy decorating our yard, selves, and dogs. Over many years of scrounging, we have managed to find some way cool bits of yard decor. As I write these words, we have some 35 yard “blowups” with a Halloween theme…and a huge blow up Shrek on the roof!
Along with dancing, biking, reading, and traveling, these activities help make a full and fun life. Most of the time…
Now we all just need to figure out how to have more life…and more fun.
Anyone who has put up with this deeply personal and hopefully somewhat interesting article in order to read to this point deserves my most sincere gratitude. Next time, let’s talk about you…