Law commission

Law Commission recommends new law on who inherits property upon death

Inheritance law, the law determining who inherits a person’s property upon death, needs to be reformed, concludes Te Aka Matua o te Ture | Law Commission in its report Il arotake I te āheinga ki ngā rawa a te tangata ka mate ana | Revision of inheritance law: property rights of a person in the event of deathpresented to Parliament today.

Much of today’s inheritance law is old, outdated and inaccessible. The Commission concluded that a new law was necessary to keep pace with social change and meet the reasonable expectations of New Zealanders. The Commission recommended changes to the law to better reflect the diversity of family relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand and contemporary understandings of te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi.

Helen McQueen, lead commissioner for the review, said:

“The law relating to who gets a person’s property on death is an important law that affects all New Zealanders. It must balance the deceased’s mana, property rights, and obligations to family and whānau, promoting positive outcomes for families, whānau, and society at large. When someone dies, a grieving family or whānau should be able to refer to a clear and accessible law that facilitates the resolution of any disputes. We believe the Commission’s recommendations will make the law more relevant to contemporary New Zealand Aotearoa, reflecting the increased diversity of New Zealand families and Maori perspectives.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

  • the introduction of a new Inheritance (Claims Against Estates) Act which will be the main source of law concerning rights and claims against estates;
  • maintaining the rights of surviving partners to a division of relationship assets upon the death of their partner;
  • revise the rules for distribution of estates when a person dies without a will (ab intestate rules);
  • clarify the legal test for determining when certain family members can claim other assets from an estate despite what the will or intestacy rules say;
  • provided that the Māori tikanga determines succession to the taonga;
  • allow a court to recover assets when they have passed from the deceased to a third party in a way that leaves the estate without sufficient assets to meet the awards made against it; and
  • support the efficient and effective resolution of disputes, both in court and informally.

Recognizing that te Tiriti o Waitangi and tikanga Māori are an independent source of rights and obligations, the Commission has sought to weave a new state succession law that reflects tikanga Māori and other values ​​shared by New Zealanders. The Commission also concluded that this approach requires state law to recognize that succession to the taonga should continue to be governed by the tikanga Māori.

This report concludes an important body of reform work carried out by the Commission in relation to New Zealand homestead law. The inheritance law review followed the Commission’s review of the rules for the division of property under the Property (Relations) Act 1976 where couples separate.

The Government will now consider the Commission’s recommendations in both reports and decide whether to reform the law.

To download the Commission’s report and for more information on the project, go here.


Te Aka Matua or Te Ture | The Law Commission is an independent, publicly funded agency that advises the government on law reform.

This makes it different from other public sector agencies. The government does not direct the way we do our work or the recommendations we make.

We approach each law reform task with an open mind, undertake engagement and consultation, and consider the broader political context.

We then make recommendations to the government to improve the law. These recommendations are published in a report to the Minister of Justice.

The minister must submit our report to Parliament. The government decides if and how it will change the law.

More information can be found at:

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