Law Commission proposes changes to ‘out of date’ succession legislation

The Law Commission is proposing changes to laws about who inherits a person’s property when they die.

An issues paper and public consultation website was released today, while the commission said it had identified parts of succession law which could be reformed.

Current law, which has been untouched for years, generally allows people to gift property through their will, but this may be challenged by certain people, particularly close family.

If people die without a will, the law directs which family members should receive the property in the estate and in what shares.

Te Aka Matua o te Ture (Law Commission) deputy president Helen McQueen, who was the lead on the review, said much of the key legislation was drafted in the mid-20th century.

“Aotearoa New Zealand has changed significantly since then, affecting the relationships we enter and what we think family means. Societal attitudes and values have changed, and we think some of these laws are now out of date.

“We are consulting on fundamental questions. How important is the freedom to choose what happens to our property after we die? Do we have a duty to provide for our family and whānau? Should succession law reflect the obligations to partners and family that exist during our lifetimes? How can the law help families avoid and resolve disputes about loved one’s estate?”

One of the proposals by the commission was for a single, comprehensive new Act which governs claims against estates.

Other potential changes include giving a surviving partner the right to property of their deceased partner’s estate in the same way as if they had separated or divorced, and for certain family members to claim from a dead relative’s estate to meet their needs if they are not properly provided for in a will.

The commission also noted the potential different perspectives among Māori and proposed succession of taonga could be governed by tikanga Māori and not general law.

“Succession is an important kaupapa for Māori and engaging Māori voices in our consultation is a priority for the commission,” McQueen said. “We ask about the relationship between tikanga and state law in any reform.”

Public feedback is sought by June 10.

After consultation, the commission will finalise its recommendations for reform in a report to the Government due by the end of this year.

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