Welcome to the Tribal Wills Project Website!
AALS highlights Tribal Wills Project in recent roundup of Innovative and Outstanding Programs
Who we are, what do we do, and who do we help:
The Tribal Wills Project allows law students to go to American Indian reservations at the invitation of the tribes to spend a week drafting much needed wills, medical powers of attorney, living wills, and burial instructions for tribal members. Students gain the wonderful experience of doing real work for real clients in spectacularly beautiful and rural parts of the country. Students are joined by an assortment of generous volunteer attorneys who are major components of the project. To date we have served clients in five different states. Through this experiential learning opportunity, DU law students are able to satisfy their public service requirement while learning to interview clients, provide counsel, and draft legal documents.
Why do we do it:
In 2004 the federal government passed the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA). Congress then amended the Act in 2008 in ways that drastically affected the way that tribal member trust estates are distributed to heirs after death. Under the act, if a tribal member were to die without a will, most of his or her trust lands would pass to the oldest child, the oldest grandchild, or the oldest great-grandchild. If none of these specific descendants exist or are able to receive the property, the trust lands will pass to the tribe. This means that regardless of the tribal member’s desires, no other family member will have any claim to the lands. However, the Act allows for tribal members to have wills, which can determine the way that owned trust lands would pass. This has created a need for wills for tribal members so they can determine to whom their land shall pass. Our goal is to assist tribal members who often do not have access to legal counsel.