If you own a gun collection or a “Class 3” weapon, a gun trust can help you legally share weapons with friends or pass down guns to others as an inheritance. Because there are so many laws about guns, you might want to think twice before letting a friend shoot your gun or giving a rifle to your 20-year-old grandson. Some laws could even cause a friend or relative to face felony charges for possessing or firing your gun. Gun trusts give many benefits that are worth looking into. Let’s look at exactly what a gun trust is and why you might need one.
What is a Gun Trust?
A trust is simply a management framework that owns your assets for you. Trusts keep your things safe while you don’t claim personal ownership of them. They can prevent liability, help your estate avoid probate court, and distribute assets after you die.
A gun trust is a legal framework that owns your guns for you. It’s operated a bit like a business. You fund a trust with your assets and work with an attorney to write up the terms of your trust. The person who manages the trust assets (your guns) is called the trustee. With some types of trusts, you can act as a trustee. However, with others, you must name someone else as the trustee. Your trust agreement lays out what will happen with the assets and when.
For example, if you have a grandson you’d like to pass a short-barreled rifle down to, but he is only 15 now, a trust may hold onto the weapon and release it to him once he meets all of the conditions for eligibility to own the gun himself legally.
Are You Violating the NFA & Title II Gun Control Act of 1968?
The NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) and revision, The Gun Control Act of 1968, made it illegal to own certain types of guns and accessories without having a serial number registered with the ATF. Anyone not listed in the registration as an owner commits a felony if they use the weapon.
These weapons include:
- Fully automatic weapons
- Select fire weapons (can fire in semi-automatic burst mode or fully automatic firing)
- Short-barreled rifles
- Short-barreled shotguns
- Silencers (sound suppressors)
Passing Down NFA Weapons
Without your heir going through a complex legal process to gain possession, you cannot simply pass these weapons down to a family member through your last will and testament at death. The steps to pass down one of these guns to someone else include:
- ATF NFA Responsible Person Questionnaire
- Photographs and fingerprints
- Application to transfer an NFA firearm
- ATF registration fee
By opening a gun trust, your heir has time to accomplish the required tasks to assume ownership of the weapon. Your heir may receive the gun from the trust by:
- Acting as a co-trustee for the trust
- Inheriting through a distribution of the trust
Sharing Your NFA Guns
There is another reason you might open a gun trust for NRA weapons. If you have friends or family members who would like to fire your guns, they cannot do so without committing a felony.
However, when you put the guns into a gun trust, the trust “owns” the guns. The trust name is registered with the NRA as the owner. Whoever is named in the trust as a co-trustee may take possession of the trust assets without you there. With a gun trust, your son, named as a co-trustee, could go out hunting using your NFA weapon without needing your permission.
However, if one of these NRA guns has no registration with the NRA, then the law requires notifying the NRA so they can come to take the weapon.
What If My Weapons are Not NFA?
Many guns and other weapons are legal to own and do not need registration with the NRA. These include most:
- Hunting rifles
- Semi-automatic pistols
There are still good reasons to open a gun trust when you own weapons that don’t need NFA registration. It makes sense to open a gun trust for a gun collection, especially if you own a high-value collection.
Avoid Public Announcements about your Gun Collection
If you do not have a gun trust when you die, your guns will pass through the probate process. Probate includes an inventory of all assets in your estate. Every weapon is assessed for value by the executor of your will and listed in your estate’s possessions. This inventory must happen before the distribution of assets begins. The probate process is public and all of your assets are listed in the public record of the estate’s inventory.
Probate court does not interfere with trust assets. A trust’s assets continue to be managed by the trustee you name after your death.
Taking Care of Your Guns
If you are declared by a doctor to be incapacitated, incompetent, or mentally ill, you can’t own your firearms any longer. If you haven’t made it clear who will own the guns, they could fall into the wrong hands and your loved ones could get into trouble if they don’t understand gun laws.
To plan for a day when you are no longer going to be capable of handling guns makes sense. With a gun trust, you have a plan in place for your weapons so that they don’t fall into irresponsible hands.
Considering a Gun Trust
Gun trusts are gaining in popularity as citizens worry about what the future holds. When the future looks uncertain, individuals look for ways to protect their loved ones from disaster. As we saw in 2020 during the shutdown, gun shops and ammunition sales drew lines of people waiting to purchase.
Guns help many feel like they can protect their families. However, most would like to keep their gun ownership a private matter. Many turn to gun trusts as a way to legally distance themselves from the weapons in the hopes that future laws will not disarm them.
Trusts often provide a way for individuals to keep or use assets but avoid the associated governmental interference of taxes or probate. A gun trust may provide a level of protection from a government reaching out to disarm you in the future.
We Can Help
At Hogan, Edwards, and Blue, our experienced attorneys work with you to draw up a gun trust that meets your needs. Whether you possess NFA guns or just have a few hunting rifles, we draw up the frameworks to keep your weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Ensure that any heirs can receive their inheritance legally. Share your weapons collection with close family or friends by making them co-trustees. Contact us and find out how we can help you better protect your gun collection and your loved ones.