Home | Browse Topics | Taonga Māori | Māori land | The successors: People entitled to ownership when an owner dies

Taonga Māori

Succession: Transfer of ownership when an owner dies

The successors: People entitled to ownership when an owner dies

Who can be a successor to Māori land under a will?

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 108, 108A

If the deceased owner made a will, any successor named in the will must fall within the “preferred classes of alienees” – that is, they must be a member of the whānau or hapū associated with the land. For information about wills generally, see the chapter “Wills”.

A surviving partner can be gifted the right to:

  • live in the family home if it is on the land
  • receive income from the land

These rights can be for a period specified in the will, or for life. The surviving partner can’t sell or pass on these interests, and can’t alienate the land, so can’t enter into or amend a lease.

Who can be a successor if there’s no will?

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 109, 109AA

If the deceased owner of the land didn’t leave a will (this is called “intestacy”), the successors are determined by the following rules:

  • A deceased’s surviving spouse or civil union or de facto partner receives a life interest, but they are not a successor. Their interest will pass to the deceased’s children once the spouse or partner dies or remarries or enters into a civil union or de facto relationship.
  • The deceased’s children will be the successors.
  • If the deceased had no children, the deceased’s siblings (brothers and sisters) will be the successors.
  • If the deceased owner had no children or siblings, it will be necessary to find out where the deceased’s interests came from and from that whakapapa work out who the interests should now go to.

Can whāngai be included in succession?

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 114A–116; Māori Land Court Rules 2011, Schedule, Form 21

Yes. The Māori Land Court can consider whāngai when determining the deceased’s successors (a whāngai is a person adopted in accordance with tikanga Māori.) The court will follow iwi and hapū tikanga in deciding whether a whāngai can be included in succession.

If the court decides that tikanga does not allow a whāngai to be included in succession, but that this leads to an injustice, it can still order that they be allowed to live in the family home (if it is on the land in question), and/or receive income from the land, either for their lifetime, or for a specific period of time.

Did this answer your question?

Māori land

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and can help you apply to the Māori Land Court.

Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre


The Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre assists all Ngāi Tahu and all Māori living within the Ngāi Tahu rohe. They practise in Māori land law and in advocacy focused on kaupapa Māori.

Māori Land Court


Find information about the Māori Land Court online.



Download application forms online.

Information booklets


Download or view information booklets online.

National Pānui


View the National Pānui online or subscribe online.

Māori Land Online


Search for Māori land interests online.

Te Tumu Paeroa: Office of the Māori Trustee


Search online for funds owing to beneficial owners.

Inland Revenue Department, Kaitakawaenga Māori service


This service offers one-on-one tax advice; tax training or seminars; tax agencies at resource centres or marae; and school visits. This service will attend hui or come to you and provide other advice about your tax obligations.

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top