HKU Study Reveals Strong Demand for a Special Needs Trust for People with Intellectual Disability

The Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong (HKU) presented the results of a questionnaire survey entitled “Ascertaining the need for Special Needs Trusts in Hong Kong” on 10 January 2017. The survey, targeted at parents of individuals with intellectual disability, was conducted by Professor Lusina Ho and Associate Professor Rebecca Lee at HKU and the Concern Group of Guardianship System and Financial Affairs (“CGGSFA”)*.

According to government statistics, between 71,000 and 101,000 people in Hong Kong are individuals with intellectual disability. As existing legal mechanisms for the financial planning for these individuals are limited, many parents are concerned that after their passing, the care for their children with intellectual disability would be upset. The 2016 Policy Address of the Hong Kong Government responded to the parents’ request by conducting a feasibility study in setting up a special needs trust (“SNT”) in Hong Kong.

An SNT provides an affordable mechanism of financial planning by pooling funds contributed by parents and thus reducing the cost of administration and service fees. To participate in such a trust, the parent-settlors transfer a nominal sum into the trust during their lifetime, and at the same time write a letter of intent and a care plan (setting out the monthly budget for the dependent-beneficiaries). They also execute a will to bequeath a substantial amount to the trustee, so that on their passing, funds will be available to maintain the beneficiaries in accordance with the care plan.

The territory-wide survey, the first of its kind in Hong Kong, received an overwhelming response with over 2,500 valid returns. The survey results show that parents of individuals with intellectual disability consider existing legal mechanisms for financial planning inadequate. Key findings of parents’ opinions about the SNT are:

  • there is a strong demand for an SNT to be established in Hong Kong;
  • 82 percent of the parents put the Government as top choice for trustee of the SNT; 46 percent of them only trust the Government to act as the trustee;
  • if the Government acts as trustee, 44 percent of the parents surveyed are likely or very likely to participate in the SNT;
  • the following features of the SNT are most attractive to parents:
    • the provision of a case manager to monitor the care received by their children;
    • the annual fees of the SNT do not exceed 1 percent of the managed assets; and
    • the presence of parent representation in trust management; and
  • parents who are most likely to participate in the SNT are aged 40–59 looking after dependents with intellectual disability aged 39 or below, and the dependents are with mild or moderate intellectual disability, and are either only receiving Disability Allowance or not receiving any social welfare benefits.

The research is supported by RGC General Research Fund 2016–2017 (project number: 17612916). The survey report (in bilingual versions), press photos and presentation slides can be downloaded from www.snt.support.


* The Concern Group of Guardianship System and Financial Affairs is established by a group of parents and caregivers of persons with intellectual disability. Its mission is to strive for a better adult guardianship system through examining its current weaknesses and seeking for improvements of the policies and institutions pertaining to adult guardianship. It is hoped that these efforts will enhance personal care and financial management arrangements for individuals with intellectual disability in Hong Kong.


Professor Lusina Ho and Associate Professor Rebecca Lee, Faculty of Law, HKU, presented the survey report at the Press Conference.

Mrs Chiu, Convenor of the Concern Group of Guardianship System and Financial Affairs, welcomed the attendees of the Press Conference.

Sharing by a mother with a Down’s Syndrome daughter.

Professor Lusina Ho and Associate Professor Rebecca Lee, Faculty of Law, HKU, presented the survey report at the Press Conference.

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