Probate of Native American Trust, Personal, and Real Property Under AIPRA

As is frequently the case with issues dealing with Tribal law, the question of what court has jurisdiction to probate a decedent’s assets -- and which law that court will apply -- is much more complicated for an Native American decedent than it is for non-Native citizens. Three different sovereigns may have jurisdiction and control over the property – a Tribe, a state, or the federal government. Which court will have jurisdiction, and which law will apply, depends on the nature of the property (personal, real, or trust), where the decedent lived and was domiciled, and where the property was located at the time of death. Trust property is handled exclusively by federal government under the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA), while a Native decedent’s personal and real property is distributed under either Tribal or state law.  Duncan Connelly's article provides an overview of how AIPRA governs the probate process for trust or restricted land, and describes the established, albeit complicated, system of probate for an Native American decedent’s non-trust land personal and real property. The issues discussed warrant careful consideration as Tribes and their members work to implement personal and collective priorities regarding the protection of cultural resources and Tribal assets.