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Minnesota Indian Estate Planning Project

The Minnesota Indian Estate Planning Project is a three-year project to provide free community education and estate planning services for tribal members of four Minnesota Indian nations: Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

The project addresses a need for information and legal services for American Indian people who wish to address land consolidation issues through estate planning and, more specifically, writing wills.

As a result of the 1887 General Allotment Act, which forced the division of tribally-held land into individually-owned parcels (generally 160 acres per family), many Minnesota tribal members are also landowners on the reservation. But under federal laws and regulations related to land inheritance in Indian Country, Indian landowners who die without a will have their land interests divided equally among their heirs—a process called “fractionation”— which dilutes ownership interests in Indian land, removes decision-making authority from individual Indian landowners and cripples economic development in reservation communities.

Fractionation has had a devastating impact on Minnesota’s Indian reservations. For example, on the Leech Lake Reservation (in north-central Minnesota), there are 288 allotments—or parcels—on the reservation. (Each allotment is approximately 160 acres.) In the past 120 years since reservation land was first allotted to individual tribal members, ownership interest in each allotment has been inherited generation after generation by multiple heirs. Today, one parcel on the reservation has an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 undivided interest owners.

The most immediate way to reduce this division of interests and to empower Indian landowners to take an active role in managing their assets is to make sure they have information about their options and access to a knowledgeable attorney who can provide appropriate estate planning services.

With the Minnesota Indian Estate Planning Project, ILTF plans to provide educational outreach sessions to 600 tribal members and will provide estate planning services to 300 people over a three-year period. More than 500 wills and other estate planning documents that consolidate Indian land ownership will result from the project.

To implement the Minnesota Indian Estate Planning Project, ILTF contracted with the law firm of Swanson, Drobnick and Tousey, P.C.

If you are a tribal member of one of the participating bands and would like addtional information, please contact the law firm at 651-739-9615. Or, visit the project's Facebook page

Latest News

Indian Land Tenure Foundation Receives $100,000 Grant from the Blandin Foundation for Minnesota Indian Estate Planning Project
(October 31, 2012)

Indian Land Tenure Foundation Launches New Indian Estate Planning Project in Minnesota
(October 28, 2011)

Learn more about ILTF's Indian Estate Planning and Probate initiative

Funding for the three-year project comes from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), a program of the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Blandin Foundation and other sources.