Planned Giving: A Q&A with attorney Geoff Sogi
Planning for the future is an essential but oftentimes stressful, confusing endeavor. We asked Geoff Sogi, an attorney specializing in estate planning and long-term care planning at Honolulu law firm Tamashiro Sogi, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding estate planning and planned giving. Geoff serves on our Young Leaders Board and is a volunteer Wish Ambassador with a heart for the Make-A-Wish mission. Since joining the board last fall, he has been dedicated to leveraging his professional expertise toward making a difference in the lives of wish families and our community. Below, Geoff tells us about what drew him to Make-A-Wish Hawaii and how he hopes his expertise can help wish families and community supporters make purposeful decisions for the future.
Q: How did you first hear about Make-A-Wish Hawaii, and what inspired you to want to volunteer as a Wish Ambassador and Young Leaders Board member?
A: Like a lot of people, I had heard inspiring wish stories and all of the great things that Make-A-Wish Hawaii does through various media outlets. About a year ago, I mentioned to a friend (and fellow Wish Ambassador and Young Leaders Board member), James Ka, that I was interested in becoming involved with an organization that allowed me to make a direct impact on a person’s life. James told me that he thought the Wish Ambassador program would be exactly what I was looking for. After working with just a few amazing wish families, I was motivated to find additional ways to get involved with Make-A-Wish Hawaii. In September 2019, I was fortunate to be selected to serve as a member of the Young Leaders Board.
Q: What is estate planning, and what led you to this area of law?
A: Estate planning involves planning for the unfortunate event of serious illness or death. It often involves documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives, which allow a person to nominate trusted family, friends, or professionals to act on their behalf and provide instructions to determine how any assets will be distributed or managed after the person passes away.
While our firm specializes in estate planning, administration, and litigation, I also help families with long-term care and special needs planning. My maternal aunt, who had Down Syndrome, was a big influence on my decision to go into this area of the law. After my grandparents passed away, I was appointed to serve as my aunt’s co-guardian to help my mom and sister, who had become her primary caregivers. When a loved one has special needs, additional planning should be done to minimize court involvement and to ensure that the person is well-provided for and able to maintain a good quality of life. Fortunately, my grandparents had taken these additional steps during their lifetime so that my aunt could maintain her eligibility for public benefits and have funds available to provide for any supplemental needs.
Q: When should people start thinking about estate planning and planned giving? Why is it important?
A: Unfortunately, life is unpredictable. We do not know when illness or other emergencies may occur. As a result, it is never too early to create some sort of estate plan. By planning in advance, a person can choose the person they want to act on their behalf in the event of an emergency, which can help to avoid the expense and delay of a court proceeding. If you want any part of your assets to benefit an organization like Make-A-Wish Hawaii after your death, you should plan in advance by designating the organization as a beneficiary in your will, trust, or on a specific account. Without an estate plan, state law may control how your assets may be divided after your death, which may not match what you want.
Q: What does planned giving look like? Are there different options?
A: There are a number of ways to incorporate charitable giving into your estate plan. Doing so not only provides much needed resources to Make-A-Wish Hawaii, but it can also have tax benefits for the donor (both during life and after death).
Those interested in making a planned gift that occurs after their lifetime may name Make-A-Wish Hawaii as a beneficiary in their will or trust by specifying that the charity is to receive a specific dollar amount or a percentage of the trust/estate. They may also designate the organization as a beneficiary of a retirement plan, life insurance policy, or annuity. For individuals with larger estates, more complex planning tools, such charitable remainder trusts may allow the individual to receive income from assets transferred to the trust for a term of years. At the end of that term, the balance remaining will go to Make-A-Wish Hawaii. These advanced planning tools can help to decrease the income, capital gains, or even estate taxes that the donor would otherwise have to pay after death.
Planned giving tools can also be used to make gifts during a person’s lifetime. For instance, if a person must take an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from an individual retirement account (IRA), then they can gift up to $100,000 per year directly to a qualified charity, such as Make-A-Wish Hawaii, which will satisfy their RMD requirement for the year. This is known as a “qualified charitable distribution” and can help a person reduce income tax liability. Another planned giving tool that allows a person to make an impact now is called a “charitable lead trust.” With this tool, a person transfers assets or cash to a trust that will make payments to Make-A-Wish Hawaii for a period of time. After the term ends, the funds may be returned to the individual or used for beneficiaries with reduced tax liability.
Starting in 2020, taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions were provided an additional deduction. They can claim up to $300 in charitable income tax deductions for cash gifts made to public charities, such as Make-A-Wish Hawaii. This provides some added tax relief for those taxpayers who could not claim charitable deductions after the standard deduction increased in 2017.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for people to give back to the community—whether that’s through volunteer work, small gifts, or large bequests?
A: If there is a non-profit group that supports a cause you feel strongly about, I think it is important to lend whatever support you are able to, whether it is time, donations, or something else. If a person can volunteer their time, they get to experience the impact of their efforts first-hand. If a person is unable to donate their time but has the means to donate cash or other assets, every dollar will help to further Make-A-Wish Hawaii’s mission to grant life-changing wishes for keiki facing critical illnesses.
If you make a donation during your lifetime, you can see the positive impact of your contribution and you can also benefit from tax deductions when you file your income taxes every year.