Responsible trustee

Every trust has at least one responsible trustee appointed by the Māori Land Court. They are legally responsible for:

  • how a trust is run
  • how the land and assets are used
  • trust finances, eg paying rates, taxes and preparing financial accounts.

Decisions made by the responsible trustee have to:

  • align with the trust order
  • be in the best interests of all owners.

Advisory trustee

Advisory trustees are nominated by owners and appointed by the Māori Land Court. They give advice and direction to the responsible trustees. Advisory trustees are usually owners, but they may also be people nominated for particular skills and expertise to help with strategic decision-making.

While the responsible trustee has the final legal responsibility for meeting trust obligations and making decisions, the advisory trustees are closely involved. Their main roles are to:

  • talk with owners to understand their views
  • share these views with the responsible trustee
  • help advise on strategic decision-making for the trust.

Custodian trustee

Responsible trustees can decide to appoint a custodian trustee, through the Māori Land Court, to help them manage the land. Their job is to carry out the directions of the responsible trustee.

A custodian trustee has authority to work with the trust assets (such as land and funds) and act on the written instructions of the responsible trustee. This type of arrangement is often used when owners want to maintain overall control, but delegate the work of running the trust to someone else.


Agents aren't trustees, but can be appointed by trustees or the Māori Land Court to carry out specific tasks for the responsible trustee. Agents can't make decisions for a trust, but they can carry out all the other duties of a responsible trustee on their behalf.