Understanding Probate

Probate is a legal process that Courts use to decide who gets the property of a person who has passed away.

Probate Dictionary:

  • Will – A signed statement made before death that states what your wishes are for everything you own when you pass away. It is often an official, notarized document. Seek legal advice about forming a will.
  • Probate – The legal process that deals with wills and who is in charge of handling affairs after a person passes.
  • Decedent – The person who passed away.
  • Heirs – The people who are set to inherit, or possibly inherit, the property of the decedent (after his or her passing).
  • Estate – The total property the decedent owned before they passed away.
    • Real Property – Land, and any property permanently attached to it (like a house, trees, oil/mineral deposits, or wells).
    • Personal Property – everything that is not real property. This includes: cars, tools, jewelry, and crafts.

Follow these links for answers:

What is the Probate Process in Navajo Courts?

What is intestacy and what does it mean to “die intestate”?

What is a Quiet Title Action?

How do I create a Will and a plan for my Estate?


You have 6 years after a decedent passes to file a Petition for Probate in Navajo Courts.

DNA has created a Self-Help Probate Packet for people who would like to file Probate Petitions in Navajo Courts.

Contact one of our offices for a copy of this packet!


The Probate Court will appoint an administrator of the estate, if one hasn’t been appointed.

An Administrator is in charge of getting information and meeting deadlines.

DNA’s Self-Help Probate Packet has instructions on filing to be an Administrator to an Estate.


The Administrator will be in charge of gathering important information, such as:

  • All lawful heirs
    • Names and addresses for living relatives
  • List of all Decedent’s Property
    • Descriptions of the property and their value
  • List of all Decedent’s Debts
    • Any accounts, balances, and who the debtor is.


An Order from the Probate Court will set a time and date for a final hearing.

This Order MUST be published in the Navajo Times, TWICE.
(This is to make sure any living relatives or heirs can be notified about the hearings.)


A final hearing will be held by the Probate Court to make a decision on the estate.


A Probate Decree that states all the rulings of the Probate Court will be signed and filed by the Judge!

What is “intestacy” and why is it important?

A deceased person’s estate is “intestate” when the person passed away without a will.
The person who passed is said to have “died intestate.”

When a person dies intestate, the court has to figure out who all the possible heirs are, all the property in the estate, and settle any disagreements. This can take a very long time.

To protect your property after you pass, consider preparing a will to ensure you are in charge of where your belongings end up!

If a relative died intestate:

  • Prepare for Probate Hearings. You will have to go through the Probate Court process to determine the property and heirs of the estate.
  • Gather all the information you have about the relative’s estate. The court will need to determine all the real property and personal property the decedent owned before they passed.
  • Consider all the possible heirs. The Probate Court ill determine who will inherit the estate, but it is helpful to have this information as soon as possible.

Navajo Nation Probate Laws will determine who gets the property the decedent left behind.
If you are an interested party, or think you are an heir, you must file a petition within 5 years of a relative’s passing.

What is a Quiet Title Action?

A Quiet Title Action is a legal process to settle a disagreement about who has the right to property after the original property owner has died. Usually, Quiet Title Actions are filed when

A person can file a Quiet Title Action if it has been more than 7 years since the decedent passed, and there is a disagreement about who has claim to the property.

You might want to file a Quiet Title Action if:

  • A mortgage lender is trying to claim a decedent’s property (that wasn’t part of a mortgage agreement).
  • There is a dispute about who has a claim to a piece of land.
  • There is a grazing or land use permit that was not transferred during the original owner’s life.

Find the Navajo Nation Rules of Probate Procedure here.

Wills & Estate Planning

There are many templates for simple wills online! Make sure you sign your will and have it notarized, to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Make a list of all the personal property you own.

You should make sure that you keep detailed lists of the property you own, and who you plan on passing it down to.
Here are some examples of personal property you might want to include:

  • Arts & Crafts (rugs, furniture, paintings, hides, pottery)
  • Jewelry
  • Gold/Silver
  • Cars, Trucks, Tractors, or other machinery