Recent Focus on the American Indian Probate Reform Act

The following article focuses on a hearing that took place earlier this month. The webcast for that hearing can be found here.

A copy of the 38 page American Indian Probate Reform Act can be found here.

From Indian Country Today:

WASHINGTON – Indians are once again telling Congress that a 2004 federal law aimed at solving tribal land fractionation problems caused by the federal government has created problems of its own.

Tribal officials explained to members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at an oversight hearing in early August that the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and the Department of the Interior’s administration of it need better oversight for many reasons, including cultural concerns, tax consequences, and property control issues. These problems have arisen in spite of the law having good intentions, namely to create a uniform federal Indian-focused probate code to help address one of the major problems created by the General Allotment Act of 1887, land fractionation. Continue reading

Montana Supreme Court Decides In re Estate of Big Spring — Exclusive Tribal Court Jurisdiction over On-Rez Probate

Here is the opinion: Big Spring Opinion.

An excerpt:

Julie Big Spring (Julie) and William F. Big Spring III (William) appeal the order of the Ninth Judicial District Court, Glacier County, denying their motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. They challenge the District Court’s assumption of jurisdiction over the probate of the estate of their father, William F. Big Spring, Jr. (Big Spring), an enrolled member o f the Blackfeet Tribe whose estate property was located within the exterior boundaries of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation at the time o f his death. We reverse the District Court’s order and hold that the Blackfeet Tribal Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the probate of Big Spring’s estate (the Estate).

Here are the briefs.

McMillon v. Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri, Inc. — Probate Case

Strange little case involving the Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri, Inc. — here is the opinion, which will be published in the Southwest Reporter. From the majority opinion:

This appeal arises from a petition to clarify a will filed by First State Bank in which it asked the court to clarify several issues, including whether the references in the will of Opal Gefon to “savings and checking account” and “remainder of my savings and checking” included the cash located in the decedent’s safety deposit box. Appellants, heirs of the decedent Opal Gefon, assert only one point of error on appeal: The trial court was clearly erroneous in finding that appellee Lost Cherokee of Arkansas and Missouri, Inc. was entitled to the $226,000 in cash located in the decedent’s safety deposit box at the time of her death. We find no error and affirm.

The dissent seems to have a point:

Continue reading