Firms To Watch: Private Client (tax, trusts, wealth management and contentious probate)

Boase Cohen & Collins is well equipped to handle a range of matters related to wills, succession planning, probate, estate administration and family law issues. Colin Cohen is the key name to note.

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

Stephenson Harwood

Stephenson Harwood is ‘one of the pre-eminent private client practices in Hong Kong’, according to a client. It maintains a leading reputation, notwithstanding the departures of Ian Devereux and Silvia On to Charles Russell Speechlys LLP in April 2021. Much of the practice’s success is attributable to team head Kevin Lee, whose ‘pragmatic, practical and empathetic’ approach and ability to ‘take a 360 degree view of matters’ is appreciated by private clients across a range of tax and trusts issues. Dual-qualified in Hong Kong and Canada, Lee is particularly appreciated for his strength in handling cross-border issues. Associate Tze-wei Ng is also a key member of the team and has ‘deep subject matter expertise in the field of tax, trusts, wealth management and contentious probate’. Ng also has niche expertise advising on philanthropy and charity law, and is an ardent advocate of promoting environmental, social and governance (ESG). The team strengthened its international estate and asset protection planning, and the development of family governance structures with the hire of Wei Kang who joined from DLA Piper in November 2021.

Practice head(s):

Kevin Lee

 

Testimonials

One of the pre-eminent private client practices in Hong Kong.’

The team is very professional and has a good reputation in the industry.’

The team provides very good, clear, practical advice for reasonable and commercial levels of fees. They have the full range of required language capabilities for a full-service global private client offering.’

The team’s partners seem to work alongside their associates to deliver team solutions, drawing from the best ideas rather than being limited by hierarchy.’

Kevin Lee is very professional and friendly to work with.’

‘Kevin Lee is a well-respected trust advisor. He takes a 360 degree view of matters which is important when dealing with private clients.’

Kevin Lee – highly experienced, pragmatic, practical and empathetic. Adept at handling clients in tricky or trying circumstances.’

The efficient, responsive and thorough Tze-Wei Ng has deep subject matter expertise in the field of tax, trusts, wealth management and contentious probate. She has an ability to translate complex concepts into simple understandable ones.’

Work highlights

  • Advised eight shareholders on the setting up of eight trust structures to hold their pre-IPO interests in a PRC-based biotech company which filed for listing in the US recently.
  • Advising a Hong Kong entrepreneur on issues relating to control of a family business in light of alleged mental capacity and undue influence issues.
  • Advising a UK client on the structuring of a Singapore trust to acquire a Monaco company which holds a real property in France.

Withers

Led by Katie Graves , Withers' six-partner team has the critical mass and depth of experience to advise a plethora of high-net-worth individuals on their wealth management concerns, both in the context of their personal and business needs. With numerous dual-qualified practitioners in its ranks, the firm is particular adept at utilising different planning tools in the context of international tax matters, including fund and trust structures. Graves is experienced in handling UK tax issues for non-resident clients in the region. The team is also recommended for US tax planning matters; a name to note in this space is the 'very technicalTimothy Burns , who is 'adept at taking on tough issues and searching for solutions', including as it relates to wealth preservation for high-net-worth individuals and family offices. English and Mandarin speaking partner Wei Zhang is also noted for her provision of 'very high-quality tax and trust planning advice to US clients' and her language capabilities also ensure she is particularly effective at meeting the demand from US immigrants who are from the PRC. The 'business-minded and collaborative' Tim George  excels in succession planning/wealth preservation for clients with particularly complex international affairs. 'Very knowledgeable and experienced' special counsel Deirdre Fu advises high-net-worth individuals and families on estate planning, wills, trusts and pre-marital wealth protection strategies.

Practice head(s):

Katie Graves

Testimonials

Withers has a multidisciplinary team, with expertise on tax in several key jurisdictions, as well as experiences with different planning tools such as fund and trust structures. They also have team members with different language abilities.’

Withers has obvious advantages in asset planning, trust and US taxation.’

Tim George has experience with corporate structures and brings a different dimension to private wealth planning. He is business-minded and collaborative. He is also very pleasant with clients.’

‘The very technical Tim Burns is adept at taking on tough issues and searching for solutions.’

‘Deirdre Fu is a very knowledgeable and experienced professional. She is a good listener and really does her best to offer a complete solution that addressed all our key needs and concern.’

‘Wei Zhang develops strong relationships with clients and a willingness to dig into issues.’

Wei Zhang provides very high-quality tax and trust planning for US clients.’

Charles Russell Speechlys LLP

As part of an ongoing trend, private client heavyweight Charles Russell Speechlys LLP continues to go from strength to strength, with it having recently recruited Ian Devereux and Silvia On from Stephenson Harwood in May 2021. The arrivals have enhanced the team’s credentials across a broad swathe of private wealth-related work, including succession and estate planning, wills and probate, and philanthropy. On, in particular, adds further ballast behind the team’s ability to service PRC-based individuals and families, in light of her experience in the market and her fluency in Mandarin. Jeffrey Lee imparts ‘excellent cross-border taxation knowledge and advice’, particularly when it involves nationals from Asia living (or with financial interests) in the UK, and UK persons who have moved to Asia.

Practice head(s):

Ian Devereux

 

Testimonials

The team is efficient and very attentive. They listen carefully to clients’ needs and requirements and provide suitable solutions.’

Excellent responsive team, providing comprehensible advice iin a complicated field. I have not found this in other firms. Seamless cooperation and support between offices.’

From many companies approached, Charles Russell Speechlys LLP was one of the very few with the specific geographic knowledge required. Furthermore, they provided a comprehensive research and recommendations at a short notice. The lawyers were straight to the point and not wasting time/money. Billing clear and transparent.

Jeffrey appeared to have solid technical skills and knowledge and was easy to communicate with. He was able to explain complex tax issues in an easy-to-understand way.

Jeffrey Lee is highly recommended for UK private clients.’

Zhong Lun Law Firm

Zhong Lun Law Firm excels in providing ‘tailor-made advice‘ to high-net-worth clients to best suit their wealth management needs. Its team is well-versed in the full spectrum of personal and business-related private wealth matters, including trusts, tax, matrimonial and corporate structuring. Much of the work is of a multijurisdictional nature and the firm is unique in being the only one in Hong Kong that has PRC, Hong Kong and Canadian tax and trusts expertise. The team is led by Clifford Ng, who can ‘provide innovative solutions to complex tax and corporate matters’. He spearheads the bulk of the most complex work handled by the group, including matters with a nexus to Canada. Elsewhere, as part of her wide-ranging litigation offering, Dorothy Siron regularly handles private client-related disputes, including contentious trusts, estate, matrimonial and probate matters. Associate Chloe Leung is ‘very thorough and insightful when handling complex cross-border tax and succession planning cases’.

Practice head(s):

Clifford Ng

Testimonials

‘Their ability to provide in-depth advice on all of trusts, corporate and tax matters is unparalleled.’

Their advice is never out-of-the-box but tailor-made and just fit for purpose.

‘Clifford Ng is a well-respected market leader in the private wealth field. He always has the client’s best interests in mind and provides innovative and sensible advice.’

Clifford Ng is a highly regarded practitioner in the trusts and tax area. He is experienced in a wide range of sectors and areas and can provide innovative solutions to complex tax and corporate matters.’

‘Clifford Ng is professional and solutions-oriented and is a well-known market leader with an excellent reputation in the field of tax and trusts.’

Chloe Leung is a rising star in the private wealth field.  She is efficient, client-focused and highly experienced in PRC and Hong Kong tax and estate planning matters.’

Chloe Leung is very responsive, efficient and provides clear and practical advice on trusts and tax matters. Her knowledge and experience exceeds her years of practice.

Chloe Leung is definitely a rising star. She understands client’s needs very well. She is knowledgeable, efficient and very thorough and insightful when handling complex cross-border tax and succession planning cases. I have no hesitation in referring clients to her.’

Work highlights

  • Advising a family office of a private real estate developer with assets of over $5bn on tax, succession planning, litigation, private equity investments, compliance and disclosure issues and investment holding structures including trusts.
  • Advising a PRC billionaire entrepreneur on the restructuring of his trusts for succession planning and asset protection purposes.

Gall

Led by UK and Hong Kong-qualified partner Caroline McNally, Gall’s five-strong family law department is well-versed at advising on the financial aspects of divorces, as well as contact issues involving children, for high-net-worth individuals, local clients and expatriates. McNally is particularly noted for her aptitude at handling complex multi-jurisdictional cases and is also committed to advancing the development of family law in Hong Kong (she is currently Deputy Chairwoman of the Hong Kong Family Law Association).

Practice head(s):

Caroline McNally 

Gibson Dunn

At Gibson Dunn, the arrival of leading litigators Brian Gilchrist and Elaine Chen from Clifford Chance in May 2020 significantly enhanced its contentious private client capabilities. Although the scope of their litigation expertise is broad, a significant portion of their work relates to private client matters, including probate disputes, tax issues and mental health matters.

Practice head(s):

Brian Gilchrist; Elaine Chen

Other key lawyers:

Alex Wong

Testimonials

The team is hardworking and meticulous.’

Brian Gilchrist – truly understands the market and the clients and that is what makes his advice so valuable.’

Brian Gilchrist and Elaine Chen provide unrivalled experience and expertise.’

Herbert Smith Freehills

Herbert Smith Freehills' corporate and litigation teams, in particular, enhance the firm's private client offering in Greater China, which is led from the London office by Richard Norridge. Gareth Thomas in Hong Kong regularly handles family, trust and probate disputes as a function of his overarching commercial litigation credentials.

Practice head(s):

Richard Norridge (London)

 

Other key lawyers:

Gareth Thomas; Tommy Tong

Key clients

The Lo Family

Morgan Stanley

Howse Williams

Led by the 'practical, efficient and hands-on' Linda Heathfield , Howse Williams' family law department provides a 'very thorough and solutions-oriented approach' across the gamut of issues, including ancillary relief, pre and post-nuptial agreements, and highly contested children matters. One of the key individuals in the group is Stacey Devoy , who often undertakes family law matters with a cross-border dimension and she also excels in maximising wealth preservation in a divorce context.

Practice head(s):

Linda Heathfield

 

Testimonials

‘The firm is very hands-on in their work. The lawyers are proactive in updating you as to the progress of the case and will leave you at ease.’

‘It is a compact team with verve and imagination.’

They are experienced, professional and humanistic at the same time in my case of handling a family dispute and child welfare. In a number of situations, their invaluable legal input has saved my child from unnecessary stress and mistreatment. I also highly appreciate their effort in guiding the case away from unnecessary emotional escalation.’

Linda Heathfield is practical, efficient, and very hands on. Her clients like her for her approachability and willingness to work with them to get them the best resolution, even when it means giving them advice that they do not want to hear.’

‘Karen Lam is a star in the industry and is a very safe and reliable pair of hands.’

Stephanie Ng is bright and hardworking.’

‘Kevin So is young, energetic and provides sound and strategic legal advice.’

Hugill & Ip

Independent Hong Kong-based firm Hugill & Ip has established a strong reputation among individuals and families, since it was founded in 2018. It provides 'practical and effective solutions' across the gamut of private client and family law matters. Name partner and team head Alfred Ip has been pivotal to the firm's success in the area, particularly in relation to contentious trusts and probate work, where it has swiftly gained a reputation as 'undoubtedly the to-go-to address in terms of inheritance provisions disputes'. 

Practice head(s):

Alfred Ip

 

Testimonials

‘Hugill and Ip is a highly professional legal firm who represent their clients with utmost respect. They are very knowledgeable in all aspects of the law.’

‘I’ve dealt with different members of the team and I find that they stand out from other international and local firms in an exceptional way. Their technical skills paired with a great sense of urgency and an attitude that keeps clients’ interest at heart is unparalleled in Hong Kong.’

‘Alfred Ip is very knowledgeable of the estate and probate laws of Hong Kong.’

‘Alfred Ip is an outstanding private client lawyer. His practical, no nonsense approach and his responsiveness are key to his success. He looks at things with a very out-of-the-box attitude.’

‘Alfred Ip is particularly personable and experienced in relation to probate matters.’

‘Alfred Ip is an expert in probate, estates disputes, trusts and private client law, but what really makes him stand out is the fact that he has both exceptional technical skills and ability to think practically, commercially and with a high sensitivity towards clients’ needs.’

‘Alfred Ip is very user-friendly and knowledgeable especially when it comes to private wealth related issues. He is extremely good at managing clients.’

‘Geraint Ho is extremely smart and proactive.’

Key clients

KPMG

Pink Alliance (see LINK)

Francis Yuen / Ingleton Limited

Oxfam

Grant Thornton

Henry Li

Work highlights

  • Acting for KPMG’s court appointed administrator to administer the Estate and conduct various recovery actions against the former executor of the Estate.
  • Acting for the husband of the deceased in an application for grant of administration. The application concerns with an application from a husband of a same-sex marriage which was lawfully celebrated in the United Kingdom.

Payne Clermont Velasco

Independent dispute resolution boutique Payne Clermont Velasco has a notable strength in family and matrimonial law matters. The vastly experienced Gregory Payne and ‘extremely reliable‘ partner Jaerey Velasco are names to note at the firm, which acts for domestic and international clients, including high-net-worth individuals. The team’s wide-ranging expertise covers all aspects of divorce, including custody claims and access to children, as well as claims for maintenance for spouse and children. In addition to being adept at resolving matters in a collaborative way, the group is skilled in representing clients in high-stakes litigation.

Practice head(s):

Gregory Payne; Jaerey Velasco

Testimonials

‘The matrimonial team is very attentive to a client’s needs and concerns and work around the clock on a case, always giving it full attention.’

‘Payne Clermont Velasco is not just a law firm but a business and life partner, and the professionals are people whom I consult regularly on major life and business decisions because I value their honesty and judgment, and their willingness to go the extra mile for their clients.’

Greg Payne is one of the most experienced lawyers in the Hong Kong market, having started his career in the Colony period, and worked as a senior government counsel, with contacts and contextual knowledge developed over many decades.’

‘Jaerey Velasco works tirelessly for clients and is readily available on a case at all times. She remembers each of her client’s particular circumstances flawlessly and gives full attention to each case that she handles. She has fantastic client communication skills and is extremely reliable.’

Jaerey Velasco is world-class as she combines her strong legal knowledge with unique case-specific issues to develop winning strategies.’

Work highlights

  • Acted for the respondent husband in relation to the wife’s claim for ancillary relief. The Court found that there are no matrimonial assets and dismissed the wife’s claim and ordered that the costs of the proceedings to be borne by the wife.

Squire Patton Boggs

Jointly led by James Tsang and Patricia Woo, the 'responsive, knowledgeable and professional' four-strong team at Squire Patton Boggs is highlighted for its ability to 'cover the spectrum of private wealth issues' on behalf of local and international families and individuals. Much of the work includes complex multijurisdictional issues; the 'calm, solid and careful' Tsang, in particular, has niche expertise advising on US tax issues. Woo has 'well-rounded knowledge of private wealth matters', although her particular forte lies in the structuring and establishment of family offices.

Practice head(s):

James Tsang; Patricia Woo

Other key lawyers:

Eric Hu

Testimonials

‘The team is responsive, knowledgeable and professional.’

The firm is very organised and has strong connections with trustees and banks, which makes all work much more efficient and allow for better planning.’

The team is able to cover the spectrum of private wealth services with different tools (funds, trusts, insurance, wills, companies), covering different jurisdictions, cross-culture families, as well as cross-generations.’

The firm provides high level and down-to-earth advice in relation to the establishment of family offices.’

‘James Tsang is very experienced with pre and post-grantor trust structuring.’

‘Patricia Woo is very knowledgeable, and able to provide professional advice and deliver effective solutions. She can explain complicated topics or structures with straightforward and clear approach.’

Patricia Woo has well-rounded knowledge of private wealth matters and is fluent advising clients from different cultures, different generations and different circumstances.’

Patricia Woo uses non-conventional methods that holistically plans for the client and his family beyond the present needs.’

Stevenson, Wong & Co

Stevenson, Wong & Co's private client practice covers a broad cross-section of matters, with work ranging from family wealth and succession planning to assistance with the preparation of Enduring Powers of Attorney and managing the assets of the mentally incapacitated. Catherine Por, who heads up the family law department, has wide-ranging contentious and non-contentious expertise, including ancillary relief and fiercely-contested matters involving custody and maintenance arrangements for children. Wendy Lam and Janice Chin are also recommended.

Other key lawyers:

Calvin Lo ; Karl Wong

Work highlights

  • Acted for a wife who successfully defended against the husband’s downward variation of his Maintenance Pending Suit in the High Court on an urgent basis during the General Adjourned Period.
  • Represented a mother in a High Court case where the father’s application for leave to adduce an expert report was dismissed.
  • Acted for the Respondent husband who successfully applied to dismiss the Petitioner wife’s Amended Petition for want of jurisdiction.