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What To Know About Tribal Estate Planning

Having a set plan for your estate after passing can help ensure that property is appropriately distributed according to your wishes. This process can feel daunting to anyone, as there are many components to consider when planning your estate. For this reason, many people never get around to completing this process, which can leave family members with much stress and worry about the division of property.

However, estate planning involves additional components as a Native American. There are essential factors to consider when going through this process that may not be common information to all members of Tribes. Specifically, some stipulations dictate the transfer of property to family or other members of the Tribe. Circling Eagle Law wants to help provide important tips and information necessary for Tribal estate planning.

What Is Trust Property

When discussing Tribal estate planning, trust property is a term that frequently arises. Trust property refers to how the United States holds property for Native American Tribes to benefit future generations.

Wills Are Important

Wills are a crucial part of estate planning. They are legal documents that dictate what happens to one’s estate after death. Wills only go into effect after the individual’s death, easing the process for any family members.

Wills are essential to any estate planning process, including Tribal estate planning. Wills provide Native Americans and Tribal members with the opportunity to have control over their estate, dictating who receives specific assets. This can prevent potential arguments over property and who is the rightful inheritor.

However, sometimes individuals pass without a will in place. When this happens to Native Americans, their trust property will be passed following the American Indian Probate Reform Act’s guidelines. It is critical to know and understand what this means for the Tribal estate planning process.

The American Indian Probate Reform Act Plays a Role

Within the American Indian Probate Reform Act, there are stipulations that dictate how trust properties should be passed along if there is no will dictating. Depending on the amount of allotment owned by the individual, the single heir rule will affect property ownership passing.

The single heir rule dictates the following rules about passing along property ownership:

  • If a surviving spouse lives on the property, they can obtain a life estate and continue residing.

  • The oldest eligible living member of the next generation can inherit, including children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren.

  • When there are no eligible living heirs, the related Native American Tribe will receive jurisdiction over the land.

Planning For Off-Reservation Properties

If a Native American individual has off-reservation property, it can be subject to standard estate planning processes dependent on the state. This means that there will need to be careful attention to the will creation process, as it will need to adhere to both North Dakota and Native American trust property guidelines.

Naming Eligible Heirs

Perhaps one of the most critical components of Tribal Estate Planning is naming an eligible heir. It is important to note that anyone who is a member of a Tribe is considered as an eligible heir, meaning that they can be named as inheritors in a transfer of property. Furthermore, other individuals can inherit trust properties if they are not Native American; however, there are stipulations. They must be lineal descendants and can connect relations within two generations, or they already own trust land.

Seek Help From Experienced Tribal Attorneys

Planning out an estate as a Native American includes several unique stipulations and rules. When tackling this process, it is best to have an experienced team of Tribal attorneys on your side. Circling Eagle Law knows how to navigate this complicated process, ensuring that your property is handled according to your terms and within existing federal guidelines.


Contact our team today at (701) 401-7404 if you need Tribal estate planning assistance.


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