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Maori Land Law

September 2019

Maori land is described by the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 (“TTWMA”) as a taonga tuku iho of special significance to Māori people.  The purpose of TTWMA is to promote the retention of Māori land in the hands of its owners, their whānau, and their hapū, and to protect wāhi tapu; and to facilitate the occupation, development, and utilisation of that land for the benefit of its owners, their whānau, and their hapū.   

Accordingly, there are significant restrictions on transferring ownership, favouring ownership of Māori land being retained by its owners, their whānau, and their hapū.  One method of transferring Māori land is through succession.  Unlike the previous legislation, TTWMA restricts a testator’s freedom in respect of interests in Māori land. If a testator purports to give Māori land to someone who is not one of the categories of person specified in section 108 of TTWMA, that provision of the will is void and of no effect.  Unless another provision disposes of that land interest according to the provisions in section 108, the land interest will pass to the persons entitled on intestacy.  The previous legislation will only apply to estates where the deceased died prior to 1 July 1994 leaving a will executed prior to 1 July 1993.

As most Māori land has multiple land owners, TTWMA also provides various options which owners can use to make decisions about the land more effectively.  For example, the owners may decide to form an incorporation or trust. 

The Māori Land Court has the special jurisdiction to hear matters relating to Māori land.  Most dealings with Māori land require a Court Order to be legally effective, such as a succession order  transferring land interests of a deceased person to successors. Therefore, an application must be made to the Court which will then be considered by the Court prior to any order being made.

How we can assist:

  • We can provide you with advice on and assist with transferring ownership of Māori land (either on the death of the owner or through sale or gifting of the land); 
  • We can provide you with advice on the different management structures and assist you with your application to the Court;  
  • We can provide you with advice on and assist with your application to the Court for Partition or Occupation Orders, licence to occupy, leases, or title improvements; and
  • We can provide you with advice on rates and Māori land.