The practice of whāngai is common in Māori culture. Whāngai is a customary practice whereby a child is raised by someone other than their birth parents.

Whether or not the whāngai can succeed to their “adoptive” parent’s Māori land interest when such a parent dies is determined by the Māori Land Court in accordance with the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act.

The Court will first determine whether or not a person is to be recognised as having been whāngai of the Deceased owner of the interest. That is, adopted in accordance with tikanga Māori.

If that person is recognised as whāngai, then the Court will then determine whether that person should be entitled to succeed.

The Court will also determine whether the person should succeed to the same, or any lesser extent, as that person would have been entitled to if he or she had been the natural-born child of the Deceased.

If the whāngai can whakapapa (show a line of descent) to the land they are entitled to succeed to the deceased parent’s land interests as if they were natural-born child.

If there is no evidence demonstrating the whāngai’s whakapapa to the land, it does not mean they cannot succeed to the interest. A whāngai can still succeed to a lesser extent, such as by way of a life interest.

When making a Will it is important that any provisions for succession to your Māori land interests are clearly set out. This will help the court to make a decision that is consistent with your wishes.

Peter Johnston