Dealing with the deceased’s property: Wills, intestacy, and small estates

Māori land

Succession: Transfer of Māori land when an owner dies

An order from the Māori Land Court is necessary to transfer the deceased’s land interests to their successors.

If the deceased made a will, any successor named in the will must be a member of the whānau or hapū associated with the land (in the terms of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, they have to be within the “preferred classes of alienees”). People outside that whānau or hapū may be entitled to a life interest in the land or a right to income from the land only.

If there’s no will dealing with the deceased’s land interests, Te Ture Whenua Māori Act sets out rules for which whānau members the land will go to.

For more details about those succession rules, see: “Succession: Transfer of ownership when an owner dies”. That section also explains how to apply to the Māori Land Court for a succession order.

Decisions at tangihanga about Māori land

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, s 176

Whānau at tangihanga can make decisions dealing with Māori land, and the decision can then be confirmed by the Māori Land Court. For example, if a father of a whānau dies, the whānau may decide to create a whānau trust in the name of their father (see: “Methods of managing Māori land: Trusts, incorporations, and reservations”). They’ll need to record the decision as a resolution, along with details of who attended.

Other decisions that a whānau group at the tangihanga might make are, for example, to become a Māori incorporation, or to replace a trustee of an existing whānau trust. Again, these would need to be confirmed by the Māori Land Court.

Next Section | Challenging a will

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A death in the family

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online:

Confirmation of the cause of death – Coroners

The website of Coronial Services of New Zealand has information about the role of coroners in investigating the causes of deaths.


Registering a death

The Births, Deaths and Marriages section of the Department of Internal Affairs has information on what to do when someone passes, including registering a death.


Burial and cremation

See your local council website for information about burial and cremation in your area.

Gathering kaimoana for tangihanga

The Ministry for Primary Industries has information on its website about Māori customary rights for gathering kaimoana for tangihanga, hui and other traditional purposes.


Financial support for bereaved families

Work and Income’s website has information about possible financial support for funerals and tangihanga.

Phone: 0800 559 009

ACC’s website has information about different types of accident compensation and payments that can be made to family members when a person has died in an accident.

Phone: 0800 101 996

Organ Donation New Zealand

Organ Donation New Zealand has information about organ and tissue donation.


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