Whāngai is a Māori custom where children are raised by someone other than their birth parents – usually a relative. Whāngai can be a short term or long-term arrangement, and the whāngai child can have an ongoing relationship with their birth parents.

Issues can arise around a whāngai child’s rights to succeed to their parent’s Māori freehold land interests.

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act governs how Māori freehold land is passed down through generations. The Act specifies groups of people you are allowed to Will your Māori freehold land interests to, for example:

  • Children
  • Blood relations who are also members of the hapū associated with the land, and
  • Other owners of the land who are also members of the hapū associated with the land.

Previously, the Act also allowed you to Will your interest to whāngai children. This was changed in 2020.

Now the Act states that the tikanga of the relevant iwi or hapū determines whether there is a relationship of descent between the parent and whāngai child for the purposes of succession.

The tikanga on whāngai succession is dependent on individual circumstances, and the tikanga of the whānau and hapū.

Recent cases in the Māori Land Court have dealt with the issue of whāngai succession. Examples of questions the Court has considered are:

  • Whether succession to land through whāngai is an accepted practice in the whānau or hapū.
  • Whether the whāngai child was named in their parent’s Will.
  • What the wishes of the whānau are.
  • Whether the whāngai child has descent lines to the deceased (and therefore the land).
  • Whether the whāngai child has already succeeded to their birth parents’ interests in the same land block.

Whāngai succession can also raise the issue of ‘double-dipping’. This is where a whāngai child may be in a position to succeed to a land block through their birth parents as well as their matua whāngai (adoptive parents).

In these situations the Court has indicated that it does not tend to endorse succession to both interests, as it would not be a fair and equitable distribution of Māori land interests.

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