Private Client (tax, trusts, wealth management and contentious probate) in Hong Kong

Stephenson Harwood

Although it was weakened on the US tax front by the departure of both Erik Wallace  and Laurence Ho  to Loeb & Loeb LLP in June 2020, Stephenson Harwood still maintains a strong overarching offering across a broad range of private client, tax and trusts matters, many of which involve cross-border issues and complex structures. Led by the ‘highly responsive and knowledgeable‘ Kevin Lee, the team has successfully secured mandates from the growing number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals and families based in mainland China and is well-placed to advise these on their increasingly sophisticated succession and wealth preservation plans, not only by virtue of its core tax and trusts expertise, but also its ability to leverage the office’s full-service offering. A dual-qualified Hong Kong and Canadian lawyer, Lee is also able to provide a unique offering to private clients in Hong Kong and mainland China who have Canadian citizenship. Ian Devereux is also widely experienced in the private wealth space and regularly advises Hong Kong-based individuals and families on a variety of issues, ranging from wills and probate to complex trust structures to achieve family succession and estate planning objectives. Since publication, Wei Kang who has a track record of advising clients on their tax and estate planning across a wide range of jurisdictions, joined from DLA Piper in November 2o21.

Practice head(s):

Kevin Lee

Other key lawyers:

Ian Devereux; Silvia On; Ian Yeung; Wei Kang

Testimonials

‘One of the rare teams in Hong Kong with depth in trust expertise, combined with practical experience across many jurisdictions.’

‘Strong professionals and very knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. Strong ability to advise Chinese families and their succession planning options.’

‘The highly responsive Kevin Lee has broad, practical knowledge on trusts and tax.’

‘Silvia On is very experienced and understands North Asia clients’ culture and needs.’

Withers

Withers is trusted by an eclectic mix of clients, including family offices, families, trustees, and high-net-worth individuals, to advise on estate and succession planning, by virtue of its deep-rooted expertise in the sector and its 'commercial and real-world experience' across geographies. The firm excels at helping wealth creators, often with assets dissipated across many global locations, achieve effective wealth preservation through complex tax advice and trusts structures. Team head Katie Graves exemplifies the firm's expertise at handling complex cross-border mandates and has a particular strength advising on UK tax issues for non-resident clients in the region, as well as Asian families with a connection to the UK. Other complementary areas of strength include Graves' expertise in relation to structuring family offices, as well as on the establishment of private trust company structures. The 'very friendly and pleasantTim George is another key member of the team and is noted for his skill at advising high-net-worth individuals and families in relation to succession planning, particularly those with complex international affairs. The office also has a particular strength advising on US tax issues, an area that Timothy Burns has vast experience on behalf of high-net-worth individuals, family offices, and fund principals. Wei Zhang also has substantial US tax, wealth planning, and succession expertise, both in terms of clients expatriating from the US, as well as for PRC and Hong Kong-based clients (including many business founders) on complex tax and trusts matters, including as it relates to the establishment of Hong Kong and US charitable foundations.

Practice head(s):

Katie Graves

Testimonials

‘The firm’s Hong Kong-based US tax team is very experienced in dealing with the US tax issues regarding PRC private clients who are US tax persons.’

‘Withers has a Hong Kong-based US tax team that is in high demand because of its strong technical skills, its ability to provide commercially practical advice, and its Chinese-speaking capability. They have worked with many PRC private clients and are highly regarded.’

‘Wei Zhang is my go-to-person for my clients’ US tax-based estate planning needs. I have found her very pleasant to work with.’

‘Tim George is very friendly and pleasant.’

Zhong Lun Law Firm

Integrally linked with its huge full-service mainland China offering, but also benefiting from a very international outlook, Zhong Lun Law Firm's Hong Kong tax and trusts team is well-positioned to advise international and Greater China-based high-net-worth individuals and family offices across a range of private wealth matters, including estate and succession planning and family law issues. Clifford Ng heads the team and excels at advising Hong Kong and PRC-based ultra-high-net-worth individuals, including high-profile entrepreneurs and business tycoons, on complex wealth planning matters, often involving the consideration of sophisticated business law issues (including advice on pre-IPO trusts) and trusts structuring to minimise PRC and Hong Kong tax implications on overseas assets. Under the guidance of Dorothy Siron, the team is also well-versed at advising on private client-related disputes, including as it relates to highly contested divorce and custody cases, as well as trusts and estate litigation.

Practice head(s):

Clifford Ng

Work highlights

  • Advising a family office of a private real estate developer with assets of over $5bn on trusts, tax, succession planning, litigation, private equity investments and other compliance and disclosure issues.
  • Advising a PRC billionaire entrepreneur on restructuring of his trusts, succession planning, asset protection, PRC tax, Hong Kong stamp duty and Hong Kong securities matters.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP

Since its inception in 2016, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP's Hong Kong-based family asset protection team has quickly become recognised in the market for its prowess at handling complex, high-profile matrimonial cases for high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients. Recognised as 'one of the pre-eminent practitioners of family law in Hong Kong', Marcus Dearle  leads the team by example and has a 'unique expertise in the really big cases', including in relation to a recent precedent-setting pre-nuptial matter. Dearle also advises on children dispute issues and has 'cutting-edge expertise in international surrogacy law cases'.

Practice head(s):

Marcus Dearle

Testimonials

‘Marcus Dearle is one of the pre-eminent practitioners of family law in Hong Kong. He has unique expertise in the really big cases, which stems from his having worked in London for many years doing such cases.’

‘When it comes to international trusts and family law cases, Marcus Dearle is in a class of his own. He regularly represents not only spouses in divorce and trust cases, but also offshore trustees. He also has cutting-edge expertise in international surrogacy law cases, for which he does a considerable amount of pro bono work.’

Charles Russell Speechlys LLP

Since the opening of its Hong Kong office in July 2017, Charles Russell Speechlys LLP has quickly gained market share as a result of its ability to provide 'a professional and knowledgeable service' to Hong Kong and Asia-based individuals and families, on both complex trust and tax structuring, as well as related disputes work. Headed by the 'approachable and resourcefulJeffrey Lee, the team's particular sweet-spot is advising on complex cross-border estate planning matters, where it regularly works alongside its market-leading London team.

Practice head(s):

Jeffrey Lee

Other key lawyers:

Graeme Kleiner; Jessica Leung

Testimonials

‘I have worked with the firm in London and Hong Kong on cross-border trust, estate, and tax matters involving multiple jurisdictions. The interaction between the teams is seamless, they work well together, and co-ordinate their advice. It seems to be a part of their culture to provide clear, practical advice in a language comprehensible to all, which I really appreciated.’

‘The firm has a strong UK law background and has good quality wills and probate expertise, particularly for UK expats.’

‘The team is very professional and knowledgeable.’

‘Jeffrey Lee is very approachable and resourceful.’

‘The outstanding Jeffrey Lee provides clear, practical, and prompt advice.’

Herbert Smith Freehills

Benefiting from a number of specialist trust and estate lawyers and also able to draw upon the expertise of lawyers in complementary practice areas, including litigation and corporate, Herbert Smith Freehills provides 'common-sense advice' to some of Asia's wealthiest families, private banks, trustees and other industry advisors. The scope of the firm's private wealth work is broad and includes complex advice regarding the structuring and disposal of family wealth, high-value probate disputes, and advice relating to mental capacity. Recently promoted to a senior consultancy role, William Cheung is particularly accomplished at handling trust, estate, and mental capacity disputes and related contentious and non-contentious private wealth matters. The 'doyen of Hong Kong litigation', Gareth Thomas also regularly handles family and probate disputes as part of his overarching litigation offering.

Practice head(s):

Gareth Thomas; Tommy Tong

Testimonials

‘The lawyers are very commercial and affable, and provide common-sense advice.’

‘Gareth Thomas is the doyen of Hong Kong litigation.’

Key clients

The Lo Family

Work highlights

  • Represented several members of the Lo Family, one of Asia’s richest families by net worth, in High Court proceedings commenced by their mother, widow to the founder of the Great Eagle Group, to remove HSBC International Trustee, the trustee of the family trust which holds US$1billion of assets, being the majority shares in the Hong Kong-listed Great Eagle Holdings.

Howse Williams

Led by the 'excellentLinda HeathfieldHowse Williams' four-partner family team is 'flexible, sensible and easy to work with' and provides a 'strong' service for clients across a range of matrimonial issues, often involving families with assets in multiple jurisdictions around the world, as well as highly contested children matters. The arrival of 'well-balanced litigatorKevin So from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in June 2019, adds to the firm's bandwidth and strengthens its ability to handle private wealth and trusts disputes.

Practice head(s):

Linda Heathfield

Testimonials

‘The firm has recently developed a strong private wealth and family practice.’

‘The team is flexible, sensible and easy to work with.’

‘Linda Heathfield has enjoyed an excellent reputation well before heading up the firm’s family department.’

‘I rate Kevin So as one of the best litigators in town and a go-to solicitor for private wealth, trust, and commercial disputes. His experience is unusually well balanced, having acted for high-profile private wealth clients and large multi-national commercial institutions in litigation, while also enjoying a thriving practice serving mid-sized clients (which provides him with more frequent court experience especially on bread-and-butter matters). His breadth of experience and ability to communicate with all types of clients makes him easy to recommend.’

Hugill & Ip

Praised for its 'attention-to-detail and proactive approach', Hugill & Ip has picked up a considerable amount of private client-related work since its establishment in 2018. The 'resourceful and knowledgeable' Alfred Ip leads the practice and is also noted for his family expertise, particularly as it relates to clients with "non-traditional" family arrangements, including advice in connection with international adoptions and same-sex surrogacy and other parenting issues which are not automatically recognised under Hong Kong law.

Practice head(s):

Alfred Ip

Testimonials

‘A strong technical base and comprehensive skill set. I think the difference would be a dedication to customer service.’

‘Hugill & Ip are very responsive to queries and always provide helpful comments and suggestions as appropriate.’

‘They stand out for being a highly-focused boutique firm filled with calm, welcoming, yet effective lawyers who truly recognise and empower talent.’

‘Hugill & Ip is impressive in terms of their professionalism in handling the family dispute that I am a party in. I have dealt with many lawyers before and none of them could explain the complex court procedures to me like they did. I have full confidence putting my case in their hands.’

‘Although the firm has only been established for two years or so, it has been able to offer efficient legal services at reasonable fee. They respond to the needs of clients with care and professional services e.g. when they are asked to come up with advice on a particular issue, they would be able to provide a detailed analysis for client to choose the best way to go forward.’

‘Hugill & Ip has been very proactive in offering advice and assistance in the course of handling my estate related matters, and keeping me involved in the process. This is very different compared with other HK lawyers that I dealt with in the past.’

‘The team assigned to my case has been outstanding. They are very knowledgeable on matters related to my case. They work expeditiously and are extremely professional.’

Key clients

Wong Wing Sze Tiffany, Administratix of the Estate of Chan Chung Han

Dora Lau

Francis Yuen / Ingleton Limited

Ella Koon

Estate of Chow Kwok Leung

Estate of Lai Suet Ching

Estate of Leung Kam Wah

Pink Alliance

Work highlights

  • Acting for KPMG’s Court appointed administrator to administrate the Estate and conduct various recovery actions against the former executor of the Estate.
  • Appointed by the Court as professional administrator and handled the sale of the real properties held by the Estate of Chow Kwok Leung, seeking directions from the Court over the dispute among beneficiaries.
  • Advised Francis Yuen  on his tax planning by applying to the Court to appoint the trustee of the family trust to act as administrator of an estate, and advise our client in the redevelopment of the real estate.

Payne Clermont Velasco

Co-headed by Gregory Payne and Jaerey VelascoPayne Clermont Velasco's matrimonial department is 'very conscientious and attentive to their client's needs' and provides 'practical and helpful advice' across a broad swathe of matters, including as it relates to the drafting of pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements; child custody; enforcement and variation of spousal and child maintenance orders; and the division of matrimonial assets and financial settlements between the parties which involves family trusts. Velasco is noted for her collaborative style and ability to 'guide clients through the legal process with a supportive and realistic approach', while Payne has more of a contentious angle to his family offering, borne out of his broader commercial litigation pedigree.

Practice head(s):

Gregory Payne; Jaerey Velasco

Testimonials

‘With respect to their family practice, the team are very conscientious and attentive to their client’s needs. They give practical, helpful advice to their clients and are able to handle a broad spectrum of family or matrimonial related work as may be required.’

‘Jaerey Velasco is a fantastic communicator and adept at working with clients, providing them with solutions, or guiding them through the legal process with a supportive and realistic approach.’

Squire Patton Boggs

Squire Patton Boggs' two-partner private client offering is particularly accomplished at advising on wealth preservation, tax, and structuring issues impacting family offices with assets and interests spread across many jurisdictions. James S Tsang excels at tax, trusts, estate and wealth planning for international private clients, and has a particular niche advising on matters involving US tax considerations. Patricia Woo co-heads the team alongside Tsang and combines fund, tax, and trusts competence, to enable her to provide a compelling offering on the establishment of comprehensive family offices for ultra-high-net-worth families.

Practice head(s):

James Tsang; Patricia Woo

Other key lawyers:

Eric Hu

Stevenson, Wong & Co

Stevenson, Wong & Co's comprehensive private client coverage, includes matrimonial expertise, family wealth and succession planning, as well as niche expertise on managing the assets of the mentally incapacitated. Catherine Por heads the family law team and has broad-ranging contentious and non-contentious expertise, including ancillary relief and matters concerning custody and maintenance of children.

Practice head(s):

Catherine Por