The Department of Interior has revised regulations affecting the distribution of trust assets following the death of an individual Indian landowner.
A Federal Register notice published December 31, 2001, makes note of the regulations, which apply to the Office of Hearings and Appeals. The rules are intended to conform with similar standards finalized by the Clinton administration at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Known as probate, the distribution of assets to the proper heirs is one of the key duties of the Interior. It is also one of the most backlogged areas of trust at the Interior and a significant trust reform project.
Despite the recognition of the problem, a senior trust officially recently testified that there are 14,000 cases that have yet to be resolved, more than twice the number that were known almost two years ago. The backlog results in delays of payment to Indian beneficiaries.
To help speed up the process, the Interior has created new regulations and has hired additional decision makers. The rules published Monday reflect some comments the department received regarding the decision makers.