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Methods of managing Māori land: Trusts, incorporations and reservations

Māori land trusts

What is a Māori land trust?

Māori land trusts are a popular means by which multiple owners of Māori land can manage the land. Under any trust, whether a Māori land trust or a private family trust, one or more people – the “trustees” – are the legal owners of the land or other property, but they have a special obligation to look after this property on behalf of, and for the benefit of, some other person or people, called the “beneficiaries”. With a Māori land trust, the trustees must manage the land for the benefit of all the owners of the land.

If the owners of Māori land decide to place their land into a trust, the trust needs to be formally approved and established by a “Trust Order” from the Māori Land Court.

Types of Māori land trusts

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 212–217

There are five types of Māori land trusts specified in Te Ture Whenua Māori Act:

  • Ahu whenua trust – This is the most common type of Māori land trust. It’s used to promote the use and administration of any Māori or General land – often for commercial purposes – in the interest of the beneficiaries of the trust. The beneficiaries hold shares in the trust and can pass them on to others.
  • Whānau trust – A whānau trust combines the shares of a related group of owners into one; it provides a means of preserving ancestral land by preventing individual whānau members dealing with their shares separately. A whānau trust can be created to hold interests in Māori land, General land owned by Māori, and in some cases, shares in a Māori incorporation. Under a whānau trust, trustees make decisions on behalf of the whānau, who together own shares within land blocks. The beneficiaries of a whānau trust are the tīpuna/tūpuna (ancestors) named in the whānau trust order and their descendants, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on. Beneficiaries of a whānau trust don’t hold individual shares and can’t pass on their interest to someone else.

Note: All descendants of the relevant tīpuna/tūpuna are automatically beneficiaries of a whānau trust. The trust doesn’t need to be updated to name new descendants.

  • Whenua tōpū trust – This is an iwi-based or hapū-based trust. It’s designed to allow the land to be used and managed in the interest of certain iwi or hapū. Rarely, it can also be used for receiving Crown land as part of a settlement. Beneficiaries don’t have shares and can’t pass on their interest to someone else.
  • Kaitiaki trust – This is a trust that relates solely to an individual who is a minor or who has a disability and is unable to manage their affairs. Generally, the kaitiaki trustee is just one person who has legal ownership and must act in the best interests of the person who can’t otherwise manage their affairs. A kaitiaki trust over a minor ends when the person turns 20.
  • Pūtea trust – This is a rarely used kind of trust that allows the landowners of small and uneconomical interests in land to pool their interests together.

Court registrars can deal with simple trust matters

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, s 235A

The Māori Land Court Registrar can take care of simple trust matters, without the need to go to court.

Registrars can decide trust matters that are “simple and uncontested,” meaning that they aren’t complicated, and no one has objected to what’s proposed. Some “simple and uncontested” situations include:

  • having a whānau trust constituted to hold only the applicant’s beneficial interests or shares
  • ending a kaitiaki trust because a minor has turned 20
  • adding a trustee to a whānau trust.

To go through this quicker process, you apply in the usual way, and should include plenty of detail to show that your situation is simple and uncontested, and notify anyone else who is affected, or named in the application.

Setting up a Māori land trust

How do we set up a Māori land trust?

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, Part 12

The landowners will need to first hold a meeting, nominate the people they want to be the trustees of the trust, and then apply to the Māori Land Court for an order establishing the trust.

You can contact the Māori Land Court directly for support at any stage of the process of setting up a trust maorilandcourt.govt.nz/contact-us.

Holding a landowners’ meeting

Before a trust can be set up the owners need to have a meeting to provide all the owners with the opportunity to discuss and make decisions about the proposed trust.

Owners must be given sufficient notice that the meeting is to be held.

The meeting will need to discuss and decide:

  • to set up the trust
  • which blocks or shares will be included in the trust
  • who will be the trustees of the trust
  • the terms of a draft trust order, setting out the powers, rights and obligations of the trustees
  • what the name of the trust will be (some trusts are named after a common tipuna/tupuna of the owners who are putting their shares into the trust).

The people attending the meeting should choose someone to take accurate minutes, so that all decisions made at the meeting are clearly recorded.

Does everyone have to agree?

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 212–217

Different kinds of trust need to have different levels of agreement among all the owners. For example:

  • when setting up a whānau trust, all owners need to agree
  • when setting up an ahu whenua trust, there needs to be “no meritorious objection” from any of the owners.

Note: To avoid confusion with other trusts, you should be precise when using a tipuna/tupuna (ancestor) as a trust name.

Who can apply to set up a trust?

The application can be made by any of the owners of the land or by someone nominated for this at the owners’ meeting.

How do we apply to set up the trust?

Māori Land Court Rules 2011, rules 12.1–12.6

The application process in the Māori Land Court is explained elsewhere in this chapter (see: “Applying to the Māori Land Court for an order”).

Applications to establish a Māori land trust also need to include the following:

  • a copy of the minutes of the owners’ meeting, and a list of who attended
  • details of how advance notice of the meeting was given to the owners
  • a schedule of the land and ownership interests to be included in the trust
  • a draft trust order approved by the owners (a template for this is available from the court)
  • the names of the proposed trustees and how they were selected
  • the proposed trustees’ written consent to being appointed as trustees
  • the grounds on which the application is made, and
  • a list of any people who voted against the proposal to set up a trust.

Note: The requirements for applying for a kaitiaki trust are different from the requirements for the other types of Māori land trust.

Trust orders

Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, ss 219, 220

The trust is established by the making of a Trust Order by the Māori Land Court. The Trust Order states the objectives of the trust, the rights and obligations of the trustees, and the rights of the beneficiaries.

A Trust Order – often also called a “Trust Deed” – is a document that sets out the rules that will govern the trust. The trustees must follow those rules.

There are some trust deed templates on the Māori Land Court website that you can customise.

Can the terms of the trust be changed?

Yes. The Trust Order can later be amended if necessary if the needs of the trust change. The owners will need to meet together to decide what the new terms of the trust should be, and then apply to the Māori Land Court for it to amend the original Trust Order.

Financial issues: Bank accounts and tax obligations

A separate bank account should be set up to receive any money from the land or interests that are part of the trust.

The trustees must register the trust with Inland Revenue and receive an IRD number. Trustees must file an IR6 income tax return for the trust each year, whether or not the trust has received money (see: “Trustees and their duties”). All financial records must be kept by the trustees for seven years. Inland Revenue must be notified if any trustees are changed or the trust is dissolved.

For information about Inland Revenue’s Kaitakawaenga Māori service, see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page.

Note: Beneficiaries must also specify in their yearly tax returns that they have received money from a trust.

Did this answer your question?

Māori land

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:

Māori Land Court

See the Māori Land Court website for application forms and information about Māori Land and the court’s role and processes.

Website: www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz
Download application forms online: www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz/our-application-process/come-in-apply-to-the-court/application-forms
Download information booklets online: www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz/about-mlc/publications
View the National Pānui online or subscribe online: www.maorilandcourt.govt.nz/national-panui

Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre

The Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre assists all Ngāi Tahu and all Māori living within the Ngāi Tahu rohe on Māori land law issues.

Website: www.ngaitahulaw.org.nz
Email: info@ngaitahulaw.org.nz
Phone: 0800 626 745

Pātaka Whenua

Pātaka Whenua is the new online customer portal that replaced Māori Land Online. This customer portal gives you the ability to submit an enquiry, access Māori land information and file a Court application.

Website:  www.customer.service.maorilandcourt.govt.nz
View the user guides on Pātaka Whenua online: www.māorilandcourt.govt.nz/contact-us/pātaka-whenua-our-new-online-portal

In the future you will be able to search for documents including Minutes and Orders. Until this is available online, you can access this information by emailing mlctewaharoa@justice.govt.nz or visiting your local Māori Land Court office.

Te Tumu Paeroa: Office of the Māori Trustee

Te Tumu Paeroa provide professional trustee services where the Māori Trustee has been appointed a role on a Māori Land Trust.

Website: www.tetumupaeroa.co.nz
Email: contact@tetumupaeroa.co.nz
Phone: 0800 943 682

Inland Revenue Department, Kaitakawaenga Māori service

Kaitakawaenga Māori provides support to any Māori individual or business wanting tax information, advice or training.

Website: www.ird.govt.nz/contactus/kaitakawaenga-maori

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