Whether a succession involving Māori land occurs by Will, or through the intestacy rules in the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, the aim is to pass the land from one generation to the next.

This basic approach can become more complex if there has been a legal adoption. Does the adopted child have a claim to their adoptive parents’ land, their birth parents’ land, or both?

Legal adoption

Under the Adoption Act 1955, when an adoption has taken place the child is deemed to cease being the child of its birth parents, and is deemed to be the child of the adoptive parents.

With respect to inheritance, this means that the child may inherit Māori land from their adoptive parents even when there is no blood relationship or connection with the hapū associated with the land.

As the result of the Adoption Act, the legal relationship between the adopted child and the birth parent(s) is severed, and there is no legal requirement for birth parents to make provision for the adopted child (including in relation to any Māori land interests) in their Will.

There are also special provisions relating to whangai (customary) adoptions and these are contained within the Act.

Inheritance as ‘preferred alienees’

Even though there is no legal requirement for birth parents to leave their interests in Māori land to an adopted child, the provisions under the Act make it possible for birth parents to leave Māori land interests to a child who has been legally adopted should they wish.

Under section 108(2)(c) of the  Act, birth parents may leave their interests in Māori land to any persons who are related by blood to the Testator and are members of the hapū associated with the land.

The Māori Land Court has applied this provision in favour of children adopted outside of the whānau on the basis of the enduring adopted child’s blood relationship and membership of the hapū.

This is demonstrated in a case where a grandson was legally adopted out of the whānau. When the grandfather passed away, he provided in his Will that a section of land was to be left to the adopted-out grandson.

Notwithstanding the severing of the legal relationship through having been adopted out of the whānau, Chief Judge Isaac accepted that the adopted-out grandson could inherit the land interests due to the provision in the Will, and held that the adopted-out grandson “falls squarely within the provisions of s 108(2)(c). He is a person related by blood to the Testator and the hapū associated with the land, and as such is a person entitled to succeed to the interests left to him by the deceased.”

Accordingly, great care is needed when dealing with succession to interests in Māori land in adoption scenarios.   

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.