Trustees perform a crucial role in the administration and management of Māori land. Trustees of a Māori Land Trust have many important duties and responsibilities to fulfil and must comply with the provisions of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 and the Trusts Act 2019 (formerly, the Trustee Act 1956).Your responsibilities as a trustee of a Māori Land Trust include:
- Knowing what land or other assets are being administered by the trust and the issues affecting the Trust;
- Acting lawfully and adhering to the relevant governance documents (i.e. the terms of the Trust Order/Deed);
- Being impartial and treating all beneficiaries with the same degree of fairness;
- Ensuring that any investments made are prudent. Before making any large investments we strongly recommend you seek independent financial advice.
- Acting with the same care, diligence, prudence and good judgment expected of business people managing the affairs of others;
- Ensuring that you only delegate your trustee responsibilities if your governance documents or the law permit this;
- Acting jointly with other trustees;
- Not benefitting personally from being a trustee (unless your governance documents permit this and approval has been obtained by the Māori Land Court taking into account all relevant financial information and the support of your beneficiaries/shareholders);
- Ensuring the funds received for the trust are applied for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the Trust;
- Keeping sound financial and administration records for the Trust;
- Declaring conflicts of interests to the other trustees and not taking part in any discussion or decision that may affect your interests; and
- Keeping beneficiaries regularly informed about the financial position and performance of the Trust.
The Trusts Act 2019 (“the Act”) outlines the core principles and default rules for trusts, which also applies to Māori land trusts established under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 (such as Whānau Trusts, Ahu Whenua Trusts and Kaitiaki Trusts).
The Act sets out two types of trustee duties:
- Mandatory duties – these must be performed by the trustee and cannot be changed or avoided by the terms of the Trust Order/Deed. Examples of these duties include that trustees must know the terms of the Trust Deed/Order and to act honestly and in good faith; and
- Default duties – these must be performed by the trustee unless they have been changed or excluded in the terms of the Trust Order/Deed. Examples include the duty not to exercise power for the trustees’ own benefit and the duty to avoid conflicts of interest.
The Act also introduces new requirements on trustees to maintain and share certain Trust information. Trustees can still apply to the Māori Land Court for directions about the trust property or the use of trustee powers or functions.
If you are interested in discussing any of the above matters with our Te Tira Hau Ture (Māori legal services) team or require any advice in relation to your Māori Land Trust please do not hesitate to contact our Te Tira Hau Ture (Māori legal services) team.