In honor of Comic-Con this week, I thought we could discuss some zombie estate planning, or rather, undead estate planning. Recently, Adam Chodorow, a law professor at Arizona State University, proposed the idea that a huge gap exists in estate tax rules for zombies. Although brain-hungry zombies, as they exist in pop culture, will hopefully never exist roaming our streets, the idea of being “undead” already exists. For years, people have been cryogenically frozen in order to attempt to preserve themselves, with the hope that they can be reanimated when a cure is found.
Chodorow poses a number of questions for this situation, such as: Can you continue to use your old Social Security number? When do you get a step-up in basis (for estate tax purposes)? Can the spouse you leave behind remarry? He posed these questions, in part, to show the weaknesses in the law while taking current tax principals to their logical conclusions in the event there was a sudden zombie infestation.
The issue of life after life and whether there is a death in between may become a real issue in estate planning. For example, assume that you will leave a fairly sizable estate to your children if you die naturally. Instead of dying in due course, you instead ask to be frozen with the idea that perhaps 50 years from now you will be cured. Assuming everything goes according to plan, you would be reanimated and broke if the law considered you dead at the time of your freezing; your estate would have long been distributed. However, if the law does not consider you to be deceased upon freezing, your estate would be tied up for an indefinite period of time. In general, the law promotes free movement of property and tries to avoid circumstances where property would be unused and stagnant for extended periods of time.
Although we probably do not need to consider the estate planning considerations for actual zombies, the way new technology can potentially change definitions of common terms, such as “death,” suggests that we should consider the implications of certain advances. If, in the future, things like freezing become commonplace, it would be helpful to know what that means for property rights.
Estate Planning: The Price of Organization, Rewards, Gifts, and Wondrous Tax Things… FREE REPORT: This complimentary report, focused on Estate Planning, is comprised of many of Mr. Miller’s articles from his long running column for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County. This report will guide you through the questions surrounding getting your estate planning in order.