Māori Intestacy

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand who are descended from settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves at some time between 1250 and 1300. Over several centuries, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture that became known as the “Māori”, with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts.

When a person dies intestate in New Zealand the Administration Act sets out general principles as to the division, priority, and in what proportion an estate is distributed.

Distribution of the estate is made per stirpes meaning that if the deceased had four children, and one of these children died before them leaving children, these grandchildren will share equally in one-fourth of their grandfather’s estate. The three living children  of the deceased also receiving one-fourth of the estate each.

Essentially the order of priority is:

  • spouse, de facto partner, then
  • children
  • parents
  • brothers and sisters
  • grandparents
  • uncles and aunts.

Aside from Maori freehold land, when a Maori dies intestate all other property devolves according to the general scheme of distribution on Intestacy

When a Māori land owner dies intestate the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act (“the Act”) provides that, a surviving spouse or de facto partner is entitled to a life interest in the land , unless that person remarries (or enters into a de facto relationship) or gives up the interest in writing.

The Act provides a priority order for succession to the Māori land interests:

  • Children of the deceased in equal shares;
  • Where there are no children then the deceased’s brothers and sisters in equal shares.  If the brothers and sisters are deceased then the interests pass to their children;
  • Where the deceased has no children or brothers and sisters then the persons entitled are those most closely related to the deceased from the side of the extended family (whānau) from which the land derives, who have children living at the date of death of the deceased; and
  • When no person falls into the above categories, the Maori Land Court can determine who is entitled based on customary law principles (tikanga Māori).


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