The Importance of Naming a Successor

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Photo: Cedric Duarte

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our everyday lives, and with the recent surge in fatalities, it has brought to light the fragility of our respective time with our loved ones.

It is easy to talk about the importance of having an end-of-life plan in place. But for most of us, it takes a life-changing event before the idea of having a plan ever comes to mind.

In the broader sense, an end-of-life plan could include a living will, the appointment of an individual with a power of attorney instrument, and a document for the distribution of assets.

When it comes to Hawaiian Homes, an added piece to an end-of-life plan would be the naming of a successor to a homestead lease. One of the most challenging issues faced by staff at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is the processing of a beneficiary’s lease when they pass away without having a successor in place.

Section 209 of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act states that a lessee may name a qualified relative to be the successor to their homestead lease. A lessee can leave their homestead to a father, mother, widow or widowers of their children, widows or widowers of their siblings, or nieces and nephews who are 50 percent native Hawaiian. They may also name a husband, wife, child, grandchild, brothers, or sisters who are at least 25 percent Hawaiian.

If a homesteader does not identify a successor to their lease, DHHL will publish a Public Notice online and in newspapers across the state to inform qualified relatives of a lessee’s passing and the absence of a named successor. The entire process could take months, depending on how many family members petition for the lease and how complicated their genealogies are.

Qualified family members may respond to the Public Notice to acquire the rights to the decedent’s lease. This is where many conflicts arise. Without naming a successor and without clear guidance from the lessee regarding their final wishes, the Department and the Commissioners stand witness, in many cases, to heart-wrenching and sometimes public disputes between spouses, children, grandchildren and others.

To avoid these disagreements, a homesteader should decide upon a successor or successors to their lease ahead of time. Prince Kūhiō felt the “rehabilitation of our race” was our most important task. A Hawaiian homestead lease is 99 years with an option to extend for another 100 years. By design, it is meant to serve and rehabilitate multiple generations of native Hawaiians, preferably within the same family.

DHHL would like lessees to take a moment to name a successor to their homestead lease. As uncomfortable as it is to think about death, having a meaningful conversation with family members will provide clarity on these important decisions and prevent conflict. Homesteaders may call (808) 620-9500 for assistance in naming a successor.