What is the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST)?
In 1994, the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act established OST to improve the management of the Indian fiduciary trust in the Department of the Interior (DOI). OST manages Indian beneficiaries' financial assets and is responsible for coordinating reform efforts to improve trust asset management and beneficiary services throughout Interior. OST is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with financial management and other functions administered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and by staff located throughout Indian country.
What are the roles of OST and BIA in managing the Indian fiduciary trust?
OST is responsible for:
BIA is responsible for resource management — including managing trust activities relating to property leases, permits, trespass, rights-of-way and land conservation and use. BIA also is responsible for recording title ownership, preparing probates for adjudication and managing supervised individual Indian trust accounts through its social services staff.
Where can beneficiaries get additional information?
Beneficiaries can call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center (TBCC), toll free, at 1-888-678-6836, or contact a Fiduciary Trust Officer.
When you call, you can get answers about your account, provide name change or address change updates, sign up for direct deposit or a debit card, learn how to read your statement, and much more. If your question needs to be referred to a regional office, TBCC personnel will track the response to be sure your question is answered. TBCC hours are Monday through Friday, 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Saturday, 8:00 am to noon, Mountain Time.
What is a Fiduciary Trust Officer (FTO)?
A Fiduciary Trust Officer is an OST employee who has extensive knowledge of fiduciary trust issues and works directly with Indian beneficiaries for whom the federal government holds assets in trust. Because BIA has a wide range of responsibilities for Indian communities including the provision of social services, law enforcement and education, FTOs are located throughout Indian country and are specifically dedicated to working with BIA and other federal employees to provide trust beneficiaries with information and assistance on all aspects of their trust assets.
Where do the trust funds come from?
Money comes into the trust through a variety of sources including commercial, industrial, recreational and agricultural leases. Money is also collected for rights-of-way uses, grazing and range permits, land sales and some court judgment or settlement awards for tribes and individuals.
What is the process for receiving funds into the trust?
A commercial lockbox operation has been established to receive and process trust payments. Under the lockbox system, payments due to beneficiaries are centrally collected, deposited (to the U.S. Department of the Treasury), and distributed to trust accounts. The new lockbox process began implementation through a pilot program in Oklahoma on July 1, 2005, and now is in operation nationwide. Payments are no longer accepted at local BIA agencies.
Who is responsible for determining the value of trust land for a lease?
The Office of Appraisal Services, within OST, is responsible for Indian land valuations. These appraisals provide impartial estimates of market value for a variety of real property interests on land owned in trust or restricted status. Various Indian trust land transactions require valuations to ensure that fair and just compensation is received by the rightful owner(s). Appraisals establish the minimum value to be paid for a trust transaction, unless waived by the property owner. Higher prices can always be negotiated by the owner or BIA.
What is an Individual Indian Money (IIM) account?
An IIM account is an interest-bearing account that is managed by DOI on behalf of a person who has money or other assets held for them in trust by the federal government. An IIM account may also be established as a result of a court-ordered judgment or settlement award.
What are unrestricted and restricted IIM accounts?
Unrestricted IIM accounts are those for which an Indian account holder determines the timing and amount of the disbursements from the account. Restricted IIM accounts must meet certain criteria before funds can be disbursed from them. Examples of restricted accounts include those for which OST does not have a current address on file for the beneficiary, those upon which a court order is imposed (e.g. for the payment of child support) or supervised accounts (e.g. when BIA Social Services is required to develop a distribution plan for how funds are authorized to be spent). Supervised accounts are most commonly created for adults in need of financial assistance or for minors until they reach 18 years old or the age of majority as determined by their tribe.
When are funds disbursed from an IIM account?
For unrestricted accounts, funds are automatically disbursed to the beneficiary when the account reaches $15, unless the beneficiary requests otherwise. If an account balance is less than $15, the funds remain invested until they reach the $15 mark. Oil and gas payments are disbursed when their value is $5 or more during any oil and gas payment cycle. A beneficiary may request payment of the balance in his/her account at any time. For restricted accounts, funds may be disbursed depending on the reason for the restriction on the account. For account holders who choose direct deposit, all money received, regardless of the amount, is automatically deposited into the account specified at their financial institution.
How are funds disbursed?
For unrestricted IIM accounts, beneficiaries may choose to receive their funds in check form or through an electronic fund transfer in accordance with OST's direct deposit or debit card programs (see next two questions). For most restricted IIM accounts, funds are disbursed according to a distribution plan.
Do the funds in an IIM account earn interest?
Yes. If funds are held in an account for more than one day, they are invested and earn interest. The rate of interest on trust accounts changes based on how the money is invested and how those investments perform.
What is direct deposit?
Direct deposit is a trust fund disbursement option that replaces checks and provides the automatic, electronic transfer of funds directly to a beneficiary's checking or savings account at his/her financial institution. With direct deposit, trust disbursements—regardless of the dollar value—are automatically and immediately deposited to a financial institution account. Unlike a check, there is no danger of funds being misplaced, stolen or lost in the mail. To enroll for direct deposit, beneficiaries can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center, toll-free, at 1-888-678-6836 or their Fiduciary Trust Officer.
What is the OST debit card program?
The debit card disbursement option sets up a debit card account for a beneficiary at Chase Bank. A debit card provides the automatic, electronic transfer of funds directly to a beneficiary's own account. There is no danger of funds being misplaced, stolen or lost in the mail. To enroll in the debit card program, beneficiaries can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center, toll-free, at 1-888-678-6836 or their Fiduciary Trust Officer.
Why do trust beneficiaries have to share land ownership with others?
When trust asset owners die without a will, their heirs inherit portions of their trust assets. This practice has continued as land has passed from generation to generation, and more and more heirs have acquired interests in the land. Today, there are parcels of land in trust that have more than 1,000 owners. Tribes and Interior are working on solutions to this massive problem—called “fractionation.” For example, the Indian Land Consolidation Program purchases small ownership shares in allotted lands from willing sellers. The purchase of these small fractional interests and transfer of the interests to the tribe increases the likelihood of more productive economic use of the land and decreases the number of interests subject to probate.
What should a beneficiary do when a relative—who is a trust beneficiary—dies?
The beneficiary should notify OST's Trust Beneficiary Call Center, toll free, at 1-888-678-6836 or his/her Fiduciary Trust Officer or the local BIA probate specialist. A copy of the death certificate will be required to initiate a probate proceeding. Individuals should not cash or deposit any checks belonging to a deceased person. Cashing them is a violation of federal law and may delay the probate process.
Back to Top
Does a beneficiary need a will?
Having a valid, written will gives a beneficiary the ability to distribute trust property to whomever he/she wants. If a beneficiary does not have a valid will, his/her trust estate will be subject to federal or tribal laws and will pass to his/her heirs as required by law.
What is the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004 (AIPRA)?
This Act created a new federal probate law that changed the way trust estates are distributed to heirs after a beneficiary's death. This increases the importance and benefits of estate planning so the beneficiary can determine who inherits his/her assets. The Act was signed into law on October 27, 2004; most provisions went into effect on June 20, 2006.
What is the purpose of AIPRA?
One of the main purposes of AIPRA is to preserve the trust status of Indian lands and to reduce the number of small fractionated interests. It offers an opportunity for individuals to determine how and when they want to distribute their trust assets. Through estate planning, individuals may wish to create a will or sell, transfer or otherwise consolidate their interests in trust or restricted land. If an individual does not have a will or estate plan, his/her assets will be distributed after death according to federal or tribal laws.
What should a beneficiary do when he/she moves or has a name change?
The beneficiary should contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center, toll free, at 1-888-678 -6836 and advise OST of any address or name changes. If there is a name change due to marriage, a copy of the marriage license will be requested. If a name change is the result of a divorce, adoption, or court order, the beneficiary will be asked to provide a copy of the court order or decree.
What is the size of the Indian Trust?
DOI manages the largest land trust in the United States.
Is OST a permanent office?
The 1994 American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act states that the Special Trustee—who heads OST—will ensure continuation of OST until all trust reforms have been implemented to his/her satisfaction. The Special Trustee may recommend the continuation, or the permanent establishment, of OST if he/she concludes that is necessary for the efficient discharge of DOI's trust responsibility.