Did you know that within the United States boundaries there are sovereign jurisdictions with laws different and separate from those of the surrounding land? If you or your family members live on or own tribal land, this guide is for you.

Default Inheritance Rules for Native American Lands are Usually Different From the United States

Unlike most default probate laws in the United States (the laws that apply if you don’t have a will), many tribal laws designate the tribe as the heir of any tribal lands instead of your family members (although this isn’t always the case). If you own tribal property and don’t have estate planning documents in place that comply with that tribe’s law, your property may simply revert to the tribe when you pass away. For that reason, it is important to consult with one or more attorneys who are familiar with both the estate planning laws of the tribal land as well as the laws of the particular state or states where you own assets.

Planning for Individuals With Tribal Property is Similar to International Planning

Similar to individuals who own assets in more than one country, individuals who own both tribal property and US property require special planning. Some tribes may recognize US-compliant estate planning documents and honor them. Others may not. If a tribe recognizes your US-compliant estate planning documents, you still need to make sure that the documents properly address assets in both jurisdictions. If a tribe has separate requirements, you might need to separate (but coordinated) sets of documents that comply with the laws in each jurisdiction. If you don’t coordinate the two plans, the different documents may inadvertently cancel each other out. In either case, it is important to consult with competent counsel in each jurisdiction where you own property or other assets.

By: Jacob A Stewart, JD

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