About the Institute

Seattle University School of Law is committed to educating outstanding lawyers who are leaders for a just and humane world. Its student body is one of the most diverse in the Northwest and its faculty, students, and staff are engaged in a number of activities that serve the American Indian community in a range of settings, including faculty research, community service, clinics, externships, and in the work of our Center for Indian Law and Policy, Access to Justice Institute (ATJI), and Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. The Institute for Indian Estate Planning and Probate, a project under the Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University School of Law, with its six year history of developing and operating Indian estate planning projects and providing training on AIPRA and probate, is uniquely positioned to provide estate planning services to Indian people.

The Institute for Indian Estate Planning and Probate (www.indianwills.org) was established at Seattle University School of Law in August, 2005, with the mission of assisting Indian people in making informed decisions about their property by establishing projects that provide estate planning services to Indian people at no cost; training to tribal members, governmental officials, and the legal community about the provisions of the American Indian Probate Reform Act, estate planning, and the probate process; and serving as a clearinghouse for information on those subjects. The Institute has been tremendously successful in achieving those goals. In total, our projects have provided community education to over 24,000 Indian landowners, served close to 4,000 clients, and executed over 2,000 wills and 1,583 other estate planning documents. Overall, between 75% to 100% of estate plans successfully reduced or avoided further fractionation.

For a list of completed Trainings and Presentations please click here.

Past Institute Projects Models, Trainings & Presentations

 

Since AIPRA was passed in October, 2004 and went into effect on June 20, 2006, the Institute has been the only entity in the country that focused on establishing programs that deliver estate planning services to Indian people. This was primarily done by using private foundation funds, specially trained service providers, and at no cost to clients. The Institute successfully executed these projects with limited funding and under significant time constraints. in fact, the Institute has become adept at developing models that maximize the services provided with any type of funding. The following are examples of the models used:

Summer Intern Project - Originally begun under a grant in 2004, the project places specially trained law students on specific reservations to provide estate planning services over a ten week period during the summer. All students are supervised by a licensed attorney. With the expiration of grant funds, tribes that received the services previously have covered the cost of this project. Currently there are 7 tribes participating with each paying for the interns' salary, travel, expenses, training and supervision. The project has been very successful, but the scale of the project is not adequate to serve the estate planning needs of the tribal members. Every summer, interns leave behind a waiting list of individuals seeking estate planning services. We are now making efforts to continue services on some reservations over the non-summer months.

Pilot Project - In 2005, the Institute received a one year, $500,000 pilot project grant funded by the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. The purpose was to determine if estate planning was needed in Indian Country and, if so, whether it could reduce fractionation. The funds were utilized to allow 2 legal services offices to each hire one attorney, one paralegal and a supervisor to provide full-time estate planning services on select reservations after they had been thoroughly trained on AIPRA, Indian estate planning, and Indian land history by the Institute. During that time more than 1,100 clients were served and, at the end of the contract, 586 individuals were on a waitlist for services. A subsequent audit by the BIA concluded that 83.5% of the wills done reduced or avoided further fractionation, that 679 land-interests were removed from the probate process entirely and that the project prevented the creation of 4,640 new interests. The pilot project confirmed that there is a tremendous need for estate planning services in Indian Country and that effective estate planning reduces or avoids fractionation. In fact those conclusions are confirmed by every estate planning projects the Institute has developed and operated. For a copy of the Estate Planning Services Project Pilot of the American Indian Probate Reform Act Implementation Project Final Report click here.

Each of the following projects were undertaken by the Institute with private foundation grant funds:

Dakota Plains Legal Services - One attorney, one paralegal and one support staff provided estate planning services and community education to reservations in South Dakota.
Anishinabe Legal Services - One attorney and one paralegal worked half time to provide estate planning services to clients on the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservations.
Paralegal Project - One full-time paralegal and a supervising attorney provided estate planning services on the Colville and Spokane reservations.

Indian Wills Clinic - The first Indian wills clinic in the nation was established at Seattle University School of Law as part of an effort to explore different approaches to delivering estate planning services to Indian clients. Out of an existing and successful Trust and Estates Clinic, four student positions were reserved for the Indian Wills Clinic four years ago. Under the clinical model in use at SU, two students are assigned to work with one client over the course of a semester. Their work with a client begins after classroom sessions and extends from an initial interview through the execution of documents necessary to implement the client's estate planning desires. Clients are drawn from the significant Indian population in the Seattle area.

Navajo Project - The Institute covered expenses for a retired OHA judge and an assistant who volunteered time to provide estate planning services on the eastern Navajo reservation. The volunteers spent one week per month on the reservation and worked from their homes in Albuquerque.

Analysis of Past Models

We developed each of the models described to accommodate available funding and any restrictions on that funding. We developed volunteer and clinical programs as a means of providing services at no or low direct cost to the Institute. All of the models we developed and use at the Institute have demonstrated success in providing services to Indian clients by producing wills and other estate planning documents. All of our estate planning projects have generated substantial waiting lists for the unique services we provide in Indian Country, emphasizing the need to increase the scale of the Institute for Estate Planning and Probate.

A New Model: A Proposed Pilot Project for Long Distance Indian Estate Planning Services


The Need for Long Distance Services

Indian people frequently find that there are very few attorneys that can provide competent estate planning services consistent with AIPRA. Nationally, the Institute is the only entity that develops projects to provide those services to Indian land owners. The national economic crisis eliminated private foundation funding for several of the Institute's projects and new funding is very difficult to secure. The Institute's Summer Intern Project, which provides specially trained law students working under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, is the only estate planning project currently in existence. It serves seven reservations in the Northwest and will serve several more next summer (2011). However, those reservations only receive services for approximately 10 weeks per year. The waiting list for services demonstrates the need for additional services on those reservations and echoes the need expressed by tribal officials. For other reservations, there are few or no estate planning services available. There are only a few attorneys with legal services programs and even fewer private attorneys who have been trained to follow the provisions of AIPRA. We developed the Pilot Project as a model for providing estate planning services to tribal members on any reservation. The Institute staff, who designed the Project, have substantial experience with AIPRA arising from previous and ongoing projects, including the development and delivery of training to tribal members and officials, legal services staff, the private bar, as well as to BIA, OST, and OHA officials. For a list of completed Trainings and Presentations please click here. The service can be provided efficiently and at a very reasonable cost compared to the cost of private estate planning attorneys.

Concept and Operation of the Project

We would develop the project with the assistance and approval of the Tribe. Neither the pilot project, nor the broader project would be operated on any reservation without tribal invitation or approval. The involvement of the Tribes and BIA would be of key importance.

The tribal members would be informed that estate planning services are now available to them at no cost. We will establish a process by which they would contact the Institute - by e-mail, regular mail, phone or otherwise - to utilize those services. That process would include a mechanism for confirming their status as tribal members.

The Institute would seek a location on th reservation that is convenient to tribal members in order to provide the type of privacy necessary for attorney-client conversations. Visual conferencing equipment will be set up in that room so that all interactions between the client and Institute staff are in a setting where they could see and hear each other.

The Institute will provide services on a first come, first served basis unless another means of prioritizing service delivery was preferred by the Tribe. The initial step would be to provide each client with a request and release form which they would sign and deliver to the appropriate office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This will authorize the release of the clients Individual Trust Inventory to the Institute, which should reflect all interests the client owns in trust allotments. The Institute will also provide the client with an information form that will allow clients to provide information about the client's family, non trust property, the client's wishes for disposition of all property, and other information relevant to the estate planning process. Institute staff will work through that form with the client by video conferencing and, simultaneously, will discuss any implications of the American Indian Probate Reform Act, options to avoid further fractionation of interests in trust allotments, and other available options such as gift deeds and sales. Institute staff will also discuss other aspects of an estate plan such as the need or desire for a durable power of attorney, health care directives, or other needs. The Institute will then utilize the information gathered in this process to draft a will and any other appropriate documents necessary to give effect to the client's estate plan.

In addition to providing estate planning services for interests in trust allotments and trust personality (Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts), there is often a need to address property subject to tribal and state laws of probate as well. Institute staff will learn and follow tribal laws, customs, and traditions pertaining to estate planning and the probate (or equivalent) process to ensure that the wills comply with applicable tribal laws. All documents will be prepared or approved by attorneys licensed to practice in the state. Where appropriate, tribal law and state law considerations will be incorporated into wills and other documents. The result would be one will for each client that will be valid and effective under tribal, federal, and state law. The Institute will review each draft with the client by video conference to ensure it gives effect to the client's wishes. We will establish a process at a location convenient for tribal members where the execution of the will can be performed with a notary and appropriate witnesses. At that time, copies of the executed will can be made as requested by the client. One issue which the Tribe may choose to address is storage of wills. The Bureau of Indian Affairs once stored wills for Indian people but no longer provides that service. The Tribe might wish to serve as a repository for wills done by its members. In any event, clients will be advised of options and ideas for storing their wills and distributing copies.

The Institute staff looks forward to discussions with Tribes on the proposal and/or finding a way to make estate planning services available to its members on a year-round basis. For more information, please contact Douglas Nash at (206) 398-4276 or dnash@seattleu.edu.

Trainings & Presentations

 

Equally as important as our direct legal services projects, the Institute provides legal training on AIPRA to attorneys, tribal governments, and officials nationally. We have held four national symposia since 2006 on AIPRA, with the audience comprised primarily of Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Special Trustee, and tribal government officials. We have provided materials and training to National Congress of American Indians, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Intertribal Monitoring Association, as well as private trainings to over a dozen tribal communities and nations. To reach private attorneys and estate planners, we have also participated in State Bar and Federal Bar Association training. A special training program has been developed for presentations to Indian land owners to inform them of how AIPRA potentially affects them and what options are available to them.
Through these different trainings, the Institute has provided information and education to thousands of attorneys and government officials. For a list of completed Trainings and Presentations please click here.


Read the feature story about the program in the law school magazine, The Lawyer.

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