A woman challenged succession orders to her grandparents Māori land interests which did not acknowledge her as their whāngai child.

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.

At the time the initial orders were made excluding the woman, Te Ture Whenua Māori Act allowed people to Will their Māori land interests to their whāngai children. The Court could also determine whether a whāngai child was entitled to succeed to land interests.

In this situation the woman was raised from a young age exclusively by her whāngai parents.

When they passed away, succession orders listed their children who were to inherit their Māori land interests.

This list, which had space for whāngai children, did not include the woman. As a result, she did not succeed to her whāngai parents Māori land interests.

The Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court considered whether any mistakes had been made in the initial orders. Her Honour considered evidence of tikanga experts from the iwi this whānau belonged to.

Ultimately, the Chief Judge found that while it was clear the woman was a whāngai child, she was not entitled to succeed to her whāngai parents’ interests. This is because the tikanga of the iwi this whānau belongs to is that whāngai children can only succeed where the children of the deceased or the whānau agree.

In this case the whānau did not support the woman succeeding to the land, because:

  • there were other whāngai children who also did not succeed,
  • no provision was made for the woman to receive Māori land interests through the Wills of her whāngai parents, and
  • the woman is likely to succeed to her biological mother’s interests in the land.

The Chief Judge did amend the initial order to recognise that the woman is a whāngai child of her grandparents, but that she is not entitled to succeed to their Māori land interests.

If the whāngai parents had included the woman as a successor in their Will, this situation could have had a different outcome. If you have Māori land interests, it pays to take legal advice when drafting your Will.

The law around whāngai succession has been amended in recent years. For more information, click here.

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