New Zealand’s society has changed, inheritance law may be changing too

  • Opinion

    26 May 2021

New Zealand’s society has changed, inheritance law may be changing too Desktop Image New Zealand’s society has changed, inheritance law may be changing too Mobile Image

For most of us, the way we want our property to be distributed when we die is important. Succession of property can express aroha, love and affection, recognise who we consider to be family, support those who we think need to be provided for, and provide benefits for the public good.

This thought provoking quote is used to introduce the Law Commission’s recently released Issues Paper that considers what New Zealand’s succession law should look like.

The Law Commission is welcoming feedback on the Issues Paper, with submissions being due on 10 June 2021.

Inheritance law long overdue for review

Although the Law Commission has previously done work on succession law in the 1990’s, much of the legislation that we have today was drafted in the mid-20th century.

Since then, New Zealand has undergone considerable social change. There has been an increase in diverse family arrangements (such as civil unions, de facto relationships, blended families, and single parenting). Additionally, there has been a shift in public attitude to rights to a person’s assets on death and the obligations that a deceased person may have to provide for certain people.

There is now far greater cultural diversity and recognition of gender diversity in New Zealand that should be talked about and considered to ensure the law supports society’s desired and informed outcomes.

People are also living longer than ever before, potentially resulting in more people having claims to a person’s estate.

Our current legislation also does not consider tikanga, and there are many matters that should be considered.

Areas under review

The statutes being reviewed by the Law Commission are the:

  • Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (which contains provisions affecting relationship property on death);
  • Family Protection Act 1955 (which allows certain family members to challenge Wills);
  • Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act 1949 (which allows people who have relied on promises to be provided for in a Will to, in certain circumstances, enforce those promises); and
  • Administration Act 1969 (which has provisions dealing with how estates are dealt with when someone dies without a Will).

Some key issues that the Law Commission have considered include:

  • entitlements to a person’s property where they die without having left a Will;
  • entitlements to a person’s property despite the terms of their Will;
  • the contribution of tikanga to the development of succession law; and
  • having a single statute to govern succession law in New Zealand.
Get in touch

If you would like more information on the above or would like assistance with preparing a submission, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts.