Law Commission recommends changes to succession law

Commission says much of current law is "old, out of date, and inaccessible"

Law Commission recommends changes to succession law

The Law Commission has recommended that succession law be reformed in a recent report presented to Parliament.

According to the Law Commission’s “Review of succession law: rights to a person’s property on death,” much of current succession law – or the law about who inherits a person’s property when they die – is “old, out of date, and inaccessible.”  

“The commission has concluded that new law is needed to keep up with social change and meet New Zealanders’ reasonable expectations,” the Law Commission said in a statement. “The commission has recommended changes to the law to better reflect the diversity of family relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand and contemporary understandings of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

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The Law Commission’s recommendations include: introducing a new Inheritance (Claims Against Estates) Act to be the principal source of law regarding entitlements to and claims against estates; continuing surviving partners’ rights to a division of relationship property when their partner dies; revising the rules for how estates should be distributed when a person dies without a will (intestacy rules); clarifying the legal test for when certain family members can claim further property from an estate despite what the will or the intestacy rules say; providing that tikanga Māori should determine succession to taonga; enabling a court to recover property when it has passed from the deceased to a third party in a way that leaves the estate without sufficient property to meet awards made against it; and supporting efficient and effective dispute resolution both in and out of court.

“The law relating to who gets a person’s property when they die is important law that affects all New Zealanders,” said Helen McQueen, the lead commissioner on the review. “It should balance the mana of the deceased, property rights and obligations to family, and whānau, promoting positive outcomes for families, whanau, and wider society. When someone dies, a grieving family or whānau should be able to refer to clear, accessible law that facilitates the resolution of any disputes. We think the commission’s recommendations will make law better suited to contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, reflecting the increased diversity of New Zealand families and te ao Māori perspectives.”

The Law Commission said that the New Zealand government will now consider its recommendations in both reports and decide whether to reform the law.

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