Succession of Māori Land

There are special laws governing who can inherit Māori land. The process is known as succession and is covered by Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 (also known as the Māori Land Act).

An order from the Māori Land Court is necessary to transfer the deceased’s land interests to their successors.

Common pātai about Succession of Māori Land

If the deceased owner made a Will, any successor named in the Will must be a member of the whānau or hapū associated with the land (“preferred classes of alienees”). People outside that whānau or hapū may be entitled to a life interest in the land or a right to income from the land only.

If there is no will dealing with the deceased’s land interests, the Māori Land Act sets out rules for which whānau members the land will go to.

Yes. The Māori Land Court can consider whāngai (a person adopted in accordance with tikanga Māori) when determining the successors. The court will follow iwi and hapū tikanga in deciding whether a whāngai can be included in succession. If the court decides that tikanga does not allow a whāngai to be included in succession, but that this leads to an injustice, it can still order that they be allowed to live in the family home (if it is on the deceased’s land), and/or receive income from the land, either for their lifetime, or for a set period of time.

Whānau decisions about property

Making decisions about the deceased’s property at tangihanga

At a tangihanga, whānau can make decisions about Māori land, which will then need to be confirmed by the Māori Land Court (section 176 Māori Land Act).

Other decisions that a whānau group at the tangihanga might make are, for example, to become a Māori incorporation, or to replace a trustee of an existing whānau trust. Again, these would need to be confirmed by the Māori Land Court.