BOZEMAN — A new online program featured on the Montana State University Extension website aims to provide free help for Native Americans looking to write an Indian will.
The program, called Will-in-a-Box, is the result of a partnership between the Montana Legal Services Association and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. It is featured on Extension’s website on planning for the passing reservation lands to future generations, which explains major sections of the American Indian Probate Reform Act.
Will-in-a-Box is compliant with the American Indian Probate Reform Act and state laws in Montana, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
The program begins with several questions to help users understand whether Will-in-a-Box is appropriate for them and lists helpful legal terms to know when writing a will. It also includes questions regarding who will receive various assets, including personal property like vehicles, furniture and heirlooms; real property like homes; Indian trust lands and individual Indian money accounts.
After answering the questions, the user can download a completed will. The will is not valid until it is properly signed in front of two witnesses and a notary public. According to Alex Clark, community outreach assistant for the Montana Legal Services Association, the witnesses cannot be family members or individuals named in the will.
“Before signing the will, MLSA recommends users have an attorney look it over to make sure it accurately reflects the users’ wishes,” Clark added.
MLSA also recommends users reach out for advice from an attorney if they have any questions when completing the will. The association provides free legal help for eligible clients on wills for Native Americans. More information can be found at or by calling 1-800-666-6899.
Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist, said along with information for Native Americans to navigate wills and the American Indian Probate Reform Act, there is additional information for non-American Indians that allows individuals to discover how property will be distributed if they pass away without a will in the state. The website has been updated to reflect changes effective Oct. 1, 2019, made by the state Legislature. A MontGuide about wills is also available at http://store.msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT198906HR.pdf. For those who do not have computer access, copies are available from county Extension or reservation offices.
Montana Legal Services Association, in partnership with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, was awarded a competitive Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation to develop Will-in-a-Box. Established in 2000, LSC’s grant program supports legal aid organizations in developing technologies that improve efficiency and provide greater access to high-quality legal assistance.