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John Hopkins: Creating a Charitable Legacy
"A gift made from the heart creates a sense of connection to something larger and will bring meaning and purpose into your life."
—John Hopkins, '54, JD '57
John F. Hopkins, '54, JD '57, father of six and grandfather of eight, counts one more beneficiary when planning his estate: the local community. He and his wife, Valerie, include it along with their children.
Hopkins, a tax and estate planning attorney for more than 55 years who is now retired in Los Gatos, California, has a few reasons for this approach. First, he says, "if you have done well financially, you've been able to succeed at least in part because of the healthy community that surrounds you." Nonprofit organizations form the network that maintains the social and cultural fabric of that community. With governments strapped, he adds, nonprofits rely on the support of donors more than ever.
"We need to value and contribute to the community—educational and medical institutions, social services, the arts—and we can't rely on government to do it all," Hopkins says. "We all need to do something to leave our children and grandchildren a better community. It should be part of our legacy."
This message has been the centerpiece of talks that Hopkins has given around Silicon Valley for the past 20 years. He follows this philosophy himself. John and Valerie Hopkins support many nonprofits including Stanford, and he has included a bequest for Stanford in his estate plan.
Hopkins has provided for his future gift to Stanford by designating the university as one of the beneficiaries of his retirement plan. Hopkins explains that many people don't realize that some of the best assets to leave charity are funds in a retirement account. If a person's children receive retirement plan distributions, the entire amount will be subject to income taxes, and possibly estate taxes if the parent's estate exceeds the amount of the current estate tax exemption. If a charity is designated as a beneficiary of a retirement plan, the charity receives the full amount, with no income or estate taxes to be paid—regardless of the size of the estate.
Hopkins' relationship with Stanford stretches back to his childhood in California farm country, when he heard about Stanford from friends. After spending summers picking and packing berries in Watsonville, he applied to Stanford and was awarded a scholarship.
He still recalls the cost of tuition in September 1950: $220 a quarter. At Stanford, Hopkins majored in economics, with an eye to becoming a tax attorney—a field recommended by a fraternity brother. He excelled at Stanford Law School, serving as editor of the Stanford Law Review. Hopkins eventually settled in San Jose. With three other lawyers, he established a law firm that later became Hopkins & Carley, one of Northern California's largest estate planning firms.
Along the way, Hopkins got involved with his community, working closely with a variety of organizations. He serves on the board of EMQ FamiliesFirst, a social services agency for at-risk children, and others, including the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Lincoln Law School of San Jose. Hopkins has also been a longtime volunteer for Stanford, including serving as chair of his law school class's 50th reunion campaign.
Hopkins encourages people creating estate plans to focus not only on tax reduction, but also on their values: how to use wealth to shape their legacy for their children and their community. He even suggests establishing donor advised funds or other gift vehicles that allow their children and grandchildren to make their own charitable gifts in the future.
"I call this your charitable legacy to your children," says Hopkins. "It will enrich their lives."