TAX planning through a trust is commanding attention in Hong Kong, especially with many wealthy citizens immigrating prior to 1997. Coupled with independent tax advice from the individual's future country of residence, tax planning in this way is a modern and effective use of the traditional vehicle, according to Agnes Auyeung, Chase Manhattan's director and general manager, trust. Ms Auyeung said potential clients should be aware that banks were not tax experts. Any professional in the trust field would always advise an individual to seek independent tax advice. 'What we do is give clients informal comments on what a trust can do to help achieve their objectives,' she said. Ms Auyeung said the value of taking independent advice was that tax scenarios in other countries changed continually and there was a difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. If the individual intended to use a trust for tax planning purposes, a person could not rely on the fact that a trust might require full disclosure in the future. 'You have to set up the structure in such a way that, if there is full disclosure and that might not be a legal requirement, it is still tax-effective,' Ms Auyeung said. 'If the authorities ask to see a copy of the trust document to determine how the trust works, a well-organised trust can stand up to challenge. 'It will be in compliance with the current tax laws.' In terms of local tax planning, those who planned to remain in Hong Kong and put their Hong Kong assets in a trust to avoid estate duty, would be best advised to consult a local lawyer or accountant to determine the best structure. Some banks and clients claimed seeking legal advice involved added expense but Ms Auyeung said it was money well spent. 'There is no point in trying to save on a one-time cost because tax laws do change from time to time. It's not just taking legal or tax advice up front; it is also having a structure reviewed as the tax laws change,' she said. With 10 trust practitioners working for the Chase Trust Company Hong Kong, Ms Auyeung said it was important to deal with a reputable, respectable and experienced bank when setting up a trust. 'The problem is that some banks are less willing to invest in the trust set up because the product is used as a loss leader. 'Therefore, the client signs up as an investment and he gets a trust almost for free. 'You always have to look at the expertise in the business and the commitment the bank gives to the service. 'Some competitors only have one or two trust people for Asia, while some don't have any. They rely on bringing out trust specialists from the tax havens when needed. We do more than that.' To extend its services for its trust clients, the bank has a Chinese-speaking trust manager in Jersey at the Chase Bank and Trust Company (Channel Islands). 'We did this because there was a need for a Chinese-speaking person to be available in Jersey to speak with our customers at all times on long distance,' Ms Auyeung said. 'So, now, that window between Asia and Europe is as wide open as possible and the technology works in such a way as to enable us to assess trust information and client detail from Asia. 'It is all about responsiveness,' she said.