A son challenged his late father’s Will which left a block of Māori freehold land “solely” to his wife. The son argued that his mother should only have been awarded a life interest in the land.

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act governs how Māori freehold land can be passed down through generations. The Act specifies who someone with an interest in Māori freehold land may Will their interest to, for example their children or siblings. Another group someone may Will their interest to is a blood relation who is also a member of the hapū associated with the land.

The son argued that his mother does not fall into that last category as she married in to the hapū. He argued that she should only be awarded a life interest, which is an option someone can leave their spouse under the Act.

The lawyers for the wife accepted that a spouse would usually only receive a life interest in the Māori freehold land of their partner.

They argued that this case was different because the wife does whakapapa to the land and has blood ties to her late husband’s hapū through his mother’s whānau lines. They share a common ancestor. Therefore, they argued, the wife was entitled to her late husband’s interest in the block of Māori freehold land.

The Court found in favour of the wife, and reaffirmed earlier decisions. The common ancestor of the husband and wife showed a connection of shared bloodlines, and an association with the same hapū which once held collective ownership over the land in question.

Even though the common ancestor was many generations back, this does not weaken the whakapapa connection – in Tikanga Māori whakapapa gains strength as it traces back through generations.

This meant that the wife was entitled to inherit her late husband’s interest in the land, and is entitled to pass that interest on to another person who fits the categories identified in the Act.

 

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