Tribal citizens at a Department of the Interior listening session. Photo: U.S. DOI
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Indian probate office in Oklahoma shutting down in September

The Department of the Interior is closing a field office that handles Indian probates.

The Probate Hearings Division has long maintained a field office in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It handles probates for citizens of dozens of tribes in Oklahoma and Kansas.

But all but one staff member has left the office, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. So rather than keep paying for office space, the department has decided to shut it down by September 30.

"The closure of the office will realize cost savings for the federal government and further promote the streamlining of operations," the notice reads.

According to the notice, one Indian probate judge will continue to work in the region from a home office. Hearings will be conducted in person and over the telephone.

To inform Indian Country about the changes, the department is hosting a listening session on June 22, 2017, from 3:30pm to 6:30pm Central Time. The call-in number is: 1-888-968-4312 and the passcode is: 3839047.

Written comments also can be submitted by June 30. Contact information can be found in the Federal Register notice.

The Probate Hearings Division's main office is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is part of the Office of Hearings and Appeals at Interior.

Probates were a major trust reform issue during the Clinton and Bush administrations. The OHA and Bureau of Indian Affairs at one point had a backlog of 30,000 cases. To simplify and streamline the process, Congress passed the American Indian Probate Reform Act in 2004.

A year later, the Bush administration created the Probate Hearings Division to focus exclusively on Indian probates. A press release from the time listed 11 offices, including three new ones in the field. The division now appears to be down to five locations.

The Obama administration took a stab at addressing probate issues but didn't finalize a new set of regulations before President Donald Trump took office in January.

Federal Register Notices:
Tribal Listening Session; Oklahoma City Probate Hearings Division Field Office (May 31, 2017)
Probate Regulation Updates (December 5, 2016)
Probate Regulation Updates (June 20, 2016)