By Hannah Broadbent
Like many American Indians, my family has land in our district on the Sisseton Whapeton Oyate Reservation (in South Dakota). Also, like many families, my grandmother’s land went to her oldest son. Sometimes it’s that simple and sometimes it’s not.
When it’s not, we need a plan. Our family’s land can provide resources and space to continue a traditional way of life. Planning the outcome can be a complex thing to do and usually means we are planning for someone’s journey to the next life.
How do we start?
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation recently launched a program for Natives to write their own will to aid in the safe transfer of lands from one generation to the next. It’s called “Will in a Box”.
On their website they state: “Your land may be the most important thing you own, but you won’t be able to leave it to your children if you don’t take action now. If you die without a will, it will be up to a federal probate judge – not you or your kids – to determine who will inherit your land after you have passed on, and it could take years to decide.”
Tribal members who own trust land in Minnesota, Montana and Oklahoma can take advantage of this service free of charge.
There is a checklist of items you need to have on hand before you begin the Will in a Box process. A few of the basic items include: Government ID, name of tribe you are enrolled in, and tribal enrollment number. If you own real estate (land, farm, house) you will need a copy of your title and a copy of your mortgage documents. There are a several other items to checkoff so be sure to visit the website so you can be fully prepared.
The Indian Will in a Box, is laid out as an interview, you will find an outline of everything that will be covered at the very beginning. The will-writing process is incredibly detailed and simplified, there is even a “legal terms” section that has a definition for each legal phrase that is included. When it is a completed you will be able to download your Will.
Before you begin, ITLF wants you to understand a very important aspect.
“The product is designed for you to write a Simple Will. The Simple Will is designed for simple estates. This interview doesn’t give you all available options for writing your Will. You will still be able to name your heirs and say what happens in case of future events,” they write on the platform. “This Will does not take the place of legal advice from an attorney. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney about your Will.”
ILTF says, for more than a century, Indian families have seen valuable land resources diminish as fractionated ownership increases with each passing generation. On their website they state that they support estate planning as one of the most effective ways to stop the continued division of Indian land titles and ensure that Indian lands are controlled and managed by Indian people – in this case, that person is you.
The goal is to have this service available for more and more tribal members in the future.
“By providing services that reduce fractionation, and training that informs Indian people about the laws governing land ownership and transfer, ILTF empowers tribes and individual landowners to protect their land assets and preserve economic and cultural resources for future generations.”
For information, see their website at: www.iltf.org/special-initiatives/estate-planning