Landowner Information

Understanding AIPRA for Landowners

This presentation document (pdf) gives trust landowners an overview of the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 and explains what will happen to your trust lands if you pass on without a valid last will and testament. The presentation also includes information on wills and options available to landowners when they write a will.

Dying Without a Will

When you pass on without a will, the American Indian Probate Reform Act will determine who receives your property unless the Tribe where your lands are located has an approved Tribal Probate Code or Federal Inheritance Act. Currently, only a handful of tribes have approved probate codes or inheritance acts, so most Indians will have their property distributed under the laws of AIPRA. The three landowner charts below show the distribution of your trust property under AIPRA if you die without a valid will.

What You Can Do With a Will

Answers to common questions about AIPRA and writing your will.

You may also download the Estate Planning Options Chart.

Estate Planning Free Services

The Indian Land Tenure Foundation fund several programs which provide free estate planning and will drafting services.

Montana State University Educational Materials

A series of 14 fact sheets that answer basic questions about your trust lands, fractionation, and the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 (AIPRA), developed by Montana State University faculty Marsha Goetting, Extension Family Economics Specialist and Kristin Ruppel, Department of Native American Studies. The materials were created with funding from the Community Outreach and Assistance Partnership program of the Risk Management Agency of USDA.

You can request a direct mailing of the fact sheets by contacting Marsha Goetting at or calling 406.994.5695.

Government Publications

Trust Reform Document Library by the Department of Interior Office of Special Trustee - A federal government website with limited documents on AIPRA, OST Budget, Court Documents, Secretarial Orders, Congressional Testimony & Legislation, Press Releases and OST Newsletters and Brochures.

What is Probate?

When you pass on, your federal trust property must go through a federal probate process before distribution of your property can be made to the heirs. The first step for the family is to notify the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office about the death. The BIA then prepares what is called a probate package. This package contains many things, such as information about the person who has passed on, their trust property ownership, their family and potential heirs, their last will and testament if there is one. The BIA then submits the package to the U.S. Office of Hearings and Appeals for probate, a federal court process that distributes the property according to the law and if there is one, the person's last will and testament. The following presentation by Judge Yellowtail gives an overview of this entire process.

Judge Yellowtail's Overview of the Federal Probate Process — This presentation was given at the Institute's AIPRA training in Rapid City, SD, July 2006.

Excerpts from The Little Red Probate Book by Sally Willett © 2005 — Sally Willett served as U.S. Administrative Law Judge for Indian Probate/Public Lands from 1977-1996. She is a prolific writer on the subject of Indian lands and probate issues. Judge Willett is Cherokee, a founding member of the Indian Land Working Group, and a passionate champion of individual Indian's rights. These materials were presented at the Institute for Indian Estate Planning & Probate's March 2006 National Symposium on AIPRA. These are copyrighted materials. Do not reproduce or distribute without express consent of Judge Willett whose contact information can be found on the first page of the materials.