MSNT: A Model For the World

Hong Kong UniversityIn October 2017, MSNT Executive Director Kathy Birkes traveled as a guest of the University of Hong Kong (UHK) to participate in an international symposium on financial planning for special needs. Kathy joined experts from Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain presenting on various aspects of adult guardianship, powers of attorney, and of course, special needs trusts (SNT).

Much like Missourians in the 1980s, Hong Kong parents are concerned about the financial wellbeing of their children with disabilities. There are estimated to be at least 70,000 people – and maybe as many as 101,000 – with intellectual disabilities in Hong Kong (a city/territory with a population of over seven million). Currently, Hong Kong recognizes powers of attorney and guardianship; but special needs trusts would be a new tool for protecting the financial future of person with disabilities.
In 2016, UHK law professors Lusina Ho and Rebecca Lee joined with a parent and caregiver group, the Concern Group of Guardianship System and Financial Affairs, to survey parents of individuals with intellectual disability. Based on 2500 responses, the research showed there is strong demand for a special needs trust in Hong Kong and, further, that the territorial government is the preferred choice for trustee. Consequently, the Labor and Welfare Bureau of the Hong Kong government is now exploring how best to establish a pooled SNT. Having international experts share their insights and experiences at the university’s International Symposium on Special Needs Trusts was intended as helpful guidance for the development of Hong Kong’s SNT.
Hong Kong SymposiumMSNT’s Kathy Birkes made a short presentation at the symposium and submitted a paper for conference publication which detailed the history of the Missouri Family Trust (d/b/a Midwest Special Needs Trust) from Jerry Zafft’s vision to the establishment and growth of the agency to its present 1250+ trusts (and beyond). Symposium participants were particularly interested in the nitty-gritty details of operations, such as the software program that MSNT developed to keep track of all the documents and disbursements. Through personal success stories recounted by MSNT staff, participants also found commonalities with Missouri and learned how effective a SNT can be at improving the lives of family members with disabilities. Although Hong Kong’s entitlement programs do not mirror those in the United States, Kathy Birkes explained the main purpose of special needs trusts in the territory is to provide case management and fiduciary oversight of funds. Kathy’s presentation was the only one that discussed the inner workings of a successful special needs trust and it was very well received by the audience.
What are some of the take-aways from this experience?
1. When it was established, MSNT was a national leader in the area of financial planning for people with disabilities. On the world stage it remains a successful model from which others can learn.

2. Executive Director Kathy Birkes represented Missouri and MSNT to the area and was excited to learn the Hong Kong government announced it would proceed with special needs trusts. Thus making her presentation not only academic but relevant to the creation and implementation of Hong Kong’s special needs trust policy.

3. People from around the world are just like people from Missouri in their concern for the well-being of their families. We often face the same challenges and, sometimes, benefit from the same solutions. MSNT is pleased to serve in assisting people with disabilities anywhere.

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