Tax and trusts in Hong Kong

Baker McKenzie

With six partners based in Hong Kong steeped in the nuances and technicalities of both local and international tax matters, Baker McKenzie has the strength-in-depth and market penetration to handle a tremendous range of local/regional work, in addition to multi-jurisdictional mandates – where it is also able to deploy the resources of experts from across the firm's impressive global footprint. US-qualified partner Richard Weisman excels in handling international tax planning with a focus on transactions and investments involving Asia and the US. Although the office is best known for its 'market-leading' tax structuring advice to large international and regional corporates on their investments and corporate activity, under the guidance of the 'very strongSteven Sieker it also handles a considerable volume of work for high-net-worth individuals in the region, including in relation to wealth management, succession planning and tax litigation. This element of the practice was also recently further enhanced by the return to the office, in a senior consultancy role, of Michael Olesnicky from KPMG.

Practice head(s):

Steven Sieker, Richard Weisman, Pierre Chan, Michael Olesnicky

Other key lawyers:

Carrie Lui

Work highlights

  • Assisting a major global retailer in rationalising its worldwide group structure by combining, where necessary, local entities representing two major retail brands into a single legal entity.
  • Advising a leading international technology and cloud platform service provider in relation to various  global restructuring projects.
  • Advising an international life insurance provider in relation to the disposition of a major tranche of its Hong Kong business.
  • Representing a leading international beverage supplier to become the sole owner of a Hong Kong joint venture vehicle.
  • Acted as US legal and tax adviser, as well as Asian adviser in relation to local law restrictions on compliance with certain provisions of FATCA and CRS for numerous financial institutions in Asia Pacific, US and Europe.

Stephenson Harwood

Headed by Ian Devereux,  Stephenson Harwood's five-partner team provides 'legally sound, commercial and practical' private client-related tax and trusts advice to an impressive array of high-net-worth individuals and family offices. The firm is particularly noted for its 'range of expertise on North America tax planning'. In this regard, Erik Wallace is noted for his 'vast experience in the cross-border US tax planning space', and is a key member of the team that also includes the 'responsive and intellectually curiousKevin Lee, who as a dual-qualified Hong Kong and Canadian lawyer is able to provide a unique offering to private clients in Hong Kong and mainland China who have Canadian citizenship. Benefiting from Mandarin language capabilities, the 'very knowledgeableLaurence Ho is also gaining an excellent reputation in the region for US-related private client matters and is known in the market as a go-to person for handling US tax compliance matters.

Practice head(s):

Ian Devereux

Other key lawyers:

Erik Wallace; Kevin Lee; Laurence Ho; Silvia On

Testimonials

‘The firm provides comprehensive jurisdictional coverage for tax and trust advisory work, across Hong Kong, UK, Canada and US.’

‘Kevin Lee is one of the very few experienced Canadian private client lawyers practising in Hong Kong.’

‘Kevin Lee has great intellectual humility and is excellent at asking questions and helping the client and their family think through what they are trying to achieve and what their options are.’

‘Laurence Ho is a rising star US private client lawyer with Mandarin capability.’

‘Erik Wallace is the most experienced lawyer in the US cross-border planning space.’

Withers

With 15 practitioners on the ground in Hong Kong and experts from across Asia, US and UK, the 'very responsive and efficient' team at Withers has the strength-in-depth and geographical diversity to handle a tremendous volume and variety of private client-related tax and trusts work, including succession planning, family and matrimonial matters, tax planning and governance. Able to combine the expertise of practitioners with significant international private client nous with lawyers benefiting from strong local connections, as well as the ability to advise in Mandarin and Cantonese, the team has expertise 'in all areas covering the trust and tax needs of wealthy individuals with global connections'. The team is 'at the top of the list for working with complex US tax and wealth planning issues for anyone with a US connection', an area that Timothy Burns is noted for his ability to 'articulate complex issues in a clear and engaging way' and Wei Zhang is recognised in the market for working 'exceptionally well with Chinese families that have US tax issues'. The arrival in 2018 of the 'very thorough and competent' tax expert Tim George from the firm's London office has further bolstered the firm's credentials in the area, given his reputation as 'one of the go-to persons for UK advice in Asia'.

Practice head(s):

Katie Graves

Other key lawyers:

Tim George; Timothy Burns; Wei Zhang; Michelle Chow; Mimi Hutton; Deirdre Fu; Ying Hui; Sophie Huang

Testimonials

‘They have a long established private client team, have offices globally and they can cover many countries internationally.’

‘Michelle Chow is a very experienced private client lawyer in the philanthropy space.’

‘Tim George is excellent with clients and is able to articulate complex issues in a clear and engaging way.’

‘Tim George  is great at coming up with sensible solutions to complex trust-company structures.’

‘Wei Zhang is extremely attuned to the expectations of our clients and also the nuances of the concerns which they may have.’

‘Timothy Burns  is one of the pre-eminent authorities on the (very grey!) area of residency claims under double taxation agreements.’

‘Wei Zhang and Timothy Burns are very knowledgeable in their US tax practice and always give good advice to our clients.’

‘Wei Zhang well understands the benefit of doing planning in advance to protect clients wealth accumulation and to prevent surprises that the US tax system may have hiding.’

‘Mimi Hutton has long been known in Hong Kong as working with families with US connections and has a particular interest in assisting families with their philanthropic planning.’

Work highlights

  • Represented a high-net worth individual in the creation of a complex trust structure for the benefit of a branch of the family, advised on the charitable donation of real property holding structure and creation of a US charitable foundation.
  • Represented a client in the restructuring of an offshore trust structure that holds Chinese business through a wholly foreign owned enterprise and subsidiaries.
  • Advised a client in the creation of an offshore trust structure, transactions with a US trust structure, creation of a Hong Kong charity, and setting up a US charitable foundation.

Clifford Chance

Benefiting from an 'impressive depth of technical know-how', the 'client-friendly' team at Clifford Chance provides 'thorough and conscientious advice' across the spectrum of tax, trusts and probate work for global and regional corporates, trust corporations, ultra-high-net-worth individuals and family offices. Although the team is increasingly active on the advisory front, it is best known for its ability to handle big-ticket tax and trusts litigation. Brian Gilchrist and Elaine Chen, as well as of counsel Alex Wong, all moved to Gibson Dunn in January 2020.

Other key lawyers:

Anthony Fay

Work highlights

  • Representing a consumer electronics manufacturer in its appeal to the Hong Kong Board of Review against the determination of the Commissioner of Inland Revenue with respect to the sources of four main heads of profits/loss derived from its operation in Hong Kong, China, US, Europe and other parts of Asia.
  • Advising a beneficiary of the estate of a prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist of renown involving assets located in various jurisdictions in particular in a district in Guangzhou, a specific economic/development zone in the PRC.
  • Advised a Hong Kong incorporated company on whether and how it could object to the refusal of the Commissioner of Inland Revenue to issue a Certificate of Resident Status.
  • Representing the Hong Kong office of an institutional fund manager in respect of the Commissioner of Inland Revenue’s ongoing investigation and audit on whether a sum received by the fund manager for selling part of its business was the sale of a capital asset (hence not taxable) or part of its trading income (hence subject to profits tax).
  • Advising the family office of one of Asia’s richest families with respect to the family’s tax position and potential tax investigation and liabilities in Canada.

DLA Piper

The 'diligent and responsive' team at DLA Piper has a strong reputation for handling discrete local tax structuring matters, and also 'has considerable experience on big projects with multiple regions and stakeholders', where it is able to leverage its vast international network. Daniel Chan heads up the overarching Asia tax practice out of Hong Kong and excels in providing advice to multinational clients on investment and taxation matters in Greater China. The 'solutions-orientedAnderson Lam is 'very professional in the field of Hong Kong tax laws' and has extensive experience advising local and international clients on structuring their business operations in a legally compliant and tax-efficient manner.

Practice head(s):

Daniel Chan and Anderson Lam

Other key lawyers:

Michelle Wong

Testimonials

‘The team is able to provide valuable ideas to address the client’s concern and achieve the end goal.’

‘Anderson Lam and Michelle Wong are professional experts in the field of Hong Kong laws and Hong Kong stamp duty rules.’

Herbert Smith Freehills

Led by the 'approachable and clear-thinkingJoanna CaenHerbert Smith Freehills provides 'very practical, commercial and robust advice' to high-net-worth individuals, executors, private banks and trustees. The team is regularly instructed by many of Asia's wealthiest families on their estate planning and in relation to the structuring and disposal of family wealth. Caen has vast experience across Asia, with work running the gamut from advice to banks and trustees on contentious and non-contentious matters involving their private clients, in addition to regularly handling work related to mental incapacity issues.

Practice head(s):

Joanna Caen

Other key lawyers:

Gareth Thomas; William Cheung

Testimonials

‘The firm’s private client team is strong and regularly acts for high-net-worth clients and professional trustees and executors.’

‘Jo Caen is personable but firm with clients.’

Key clients

The Lo Family

Work highlights

  • Advising members of the Lo Family, one of Asia’s richest families by net worth, on High Court proceedings commenced by their mother against  HSBC International Trustee, the trustee of the family trust which holds $1bn of assets, being the majority shares in the Hong Kong-listed Great Eagle Holdings.

Zhong Lun Law Firm

Led by the 'very well-respected' Clifford Ng  out of Hong Kong, Chinese-headquartered heavyweight Zhong Lun Law Firm has deeply entrenched ties with many of the PRC's richest individuals, which the firm advises across the gamut of matters, including estate planning, tax-related advice on investments, succession planning and family law issues. The team 'understands the private banking and wealth management industry very well', and in addition to providing pure private wealth advice, is also engaged in corporate cross-over work, including structuring pre-IPO trusts for founders of companies looking to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. As well as being 'very well-versed in PRC planning issues', Ng is also noted for his 'market-leading practice in relation to Canadian tax and trusts matters'. Leveraging the firm's broader commercial litigation capabilities, the firm also regularly handles contentious private client work, including estates and probate disputes, and heavily contested matrimonial matters.

Practice head(s):

Clifford Ng

Other key lawyers:

Dorothy Siron; Frederick Hui; Chloe Leung

Testimonials

‘The go-to-firm for PRC tax matters in Hong Kong.’

‘One of the best Chinese law firms that can cover international planning issues.’

‘The team has a strong capable team advising clients on trust structure and tax advice in respect of Hong Kong, China and Canada.’

‘Clifford Ng is the most experienced lawyer in the private client space; he is very well-versed with both PRC and Canadian planning issues.’

‘Clifford Ng is client focused and friendly to work with.’

Work highlights

  • Advised a family office with assets of over $5bn on investment structures and succession planning and management matters, M&A, private equity investments, litigation, tax and other compliance and disclosure issues.
  • Advising a PRC billionaire on trusts, asset protection, PRC tax, succession planning matters, family and migration issues.
  • Acting as client’s trust counsel and resolving complex issues arising from breach of loan and share mortgage agreements due to change of control event.
  • Advised a company to be listed in the US on US securities law, PRC tax, PRC foreign ownership regulations, pre-listing structuring and ESOP; and further advised over 15 founders and executives on settlement of pre-IPO trust.
  • Advised founders of a company which was subsequently listed in November 2018 on the settlement of pre-IPO trusts.

Deacons

Benefiting from 'theoretical knowledge and real-world on the ground practical experience', Deacons' small team provides 'practical and commercially savvy tax advice' to a compelling blend of multinational corporates, regional SMEs and individuals. 'Knowledgeable and articulate' Hong Kong and UK-qualified team head Stefano Mariani has an excellent reputation in the region across a range of advisory and contentious tax matters, ranging from corporate taxation and group reconstructions to personal taxation and trusts and estate planning and management. Clients also appreciate Mariani's 'significant experience in dealing with officers of the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department and courts'.

Practice head(s):

Stefano Mariani

Testimonials

‘Stefano Mariani is extremely knowledgeable, articulate and commendably willing to commit to solid, usable advice.’

‘Stefano Mariani has proven to be an expert at providing tax and trust advice in relation to various structures.’

‘Stefano Mariani is a delight to work with and has an excellent reputation across a wide range of tax and trusts work.’

Squire Patton Boggs

Squire Patton Boggs is best-known for its 'very strong' offering for local high-net-worth individuals and family offices on their US law-related tax and trusts matters. Recognised as 'one of the most experienced US private client lawyers in Hong Kong', James S Tsang is the primary reason for the firm's strong reputation in this particular niche, given his ability to provide 'very commercial and useable' across tax, trust, estate and wealth planning for international private clients, as well as on US inbound/outbound investments. Led by Patricia Woo , the team has also developed a growing reputation for advising on the establishment of family offices.

Practice head(s):

James Tsang and Patricia Woo

Other key lawyers:

Eric Hu

Testimonials

‘The firm has a very good private client tax and trusts practice especially on US-related matters.’

‘James Tsang is one of the most experienced US private client lawyers in Hong Kong.’

Work highlights

  • Represented single family office of a rich list family in bringing a world-renowned brand to Hong Kong.
  • Represented a company backed by single family offices of rich list families and celebrities in Series A fund raising.  
  • Represented a company backed by the single family office of rich list family in an initial round of fund raising and establishing an employee incentive scheme.
  • Represented a single family office of a rich list family in handling prime brokerage and banking relationship with private banks.
  • Represented a world renowned art collector and dealer family in setting up own single family office.