The Māori Land Court has put Trustees of a Whānau Trust on notice for breaching their fiduciary obligations to beneficiaries.

The Trustees were appointed to their roles in 2005 after their father died in 2002. His Will directed that his interests, including Māori land, be held in a Whānau Trust for the benefit of his descendants.

The Trustees never held any annual general meetings and declined to meet with any of their other siblings about the Trust’s management.

The siblings brought the case before the Court, asking for a partial termination of the Trust to remove their shares.

The Court considered that the Trustees had blatantly failed to understand their roles and fulfil their fiduciary obligations. In addition to having never held a general meeting, the Trustees did not know the terms of the Trust, or what the objects of the Trust were.

Despite the significant failures, the Judge declined to partially terminate the Trust. The separation of the shares would be detrimental to everyone affected. The Judge decided that removal of the Trustees would be more appropriate in the circumstances.

The Trustees were given six weeks to respond to their failings and provide reasons why their removal should not occur.

It is important to understand what your obligations are as a trustee, and your rights as a beneficiary of a trust. If you think trustees of a Whānau Trust have failed to perform their fiduciary obligations, it pays to consult a professional experienced in the area.

Peter Johnston
Māori Issues Lawyer