A Māori landowner died and was survived by her second husband and five children from her first marriage.

As she did not leave a will, the second husband was able to obtain a life interest to her Māori land interests under the intestacy provisions of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, notwithstanding that he did not whakapapa to the land.

This meant that the children were unable to make any decisions about the land they had whakapapa to, while the husband had voting rights and was entitled to receive any income from the Māori land interests. This would continue until the second husband died, entered a new relationship, or surrendered his interest.

Changes to this part of the Act came into effect on Waitangi Day this year, with one significant change being to succession and the rights of descendants.

Before the changes came into effect, a deceased landowners’ interests in land could pass to their surviving partner or spouse even if that person did not whakapapa to the land.

As outlined above, descendants who did whakapapa to the land would often not be entitled to succeed to their land interest or shares until the partner or spouse died, entered a new relationship, or surrendered their interest.

Under the new amendment, when a landowner dies leaving a spouse, descendants can apply immediately to succeed to the Māori land interest. The surviving partner or spouse of the landowner does not receive the land interest but can receive income from the land and occupy the family home, if the family home is on Māori land.

The benefit for descendants is that they are now able to be involved as owners of the land and exercise their voting rights sooner, which means they are now able to connect with and make decisions about their land.

This can be compared with what happens when a person with interests in Māori land dies and leaves a will. Under the Act, a person can only leave these interests to select classes of people. These are:

  • Their children or further direct descendants;
  • People who are blood relations of the testator and are also members of the hapu associated with the land;
  • Other owners of the land who are also members of the hapu associated with the land;
  • People who would be entitled to succeed to the interest if the testator did not leave a will (as discussed above); and
  • Trustees of any of the above.

This will still be subject to the right of a surviving spouse or partner to live in the family home and earn income from the land.

If the will-maker leaves their interest to anyone who does not fall into one of the classes above, that clause of the Will will be of no effect, and the interest will then be passed on as if the deceased did not leave a will, as discussed above.

If you have Maori land, or expect to inherit Maori land, it pays to take advice from an experienced Maori land lawyer.