If you’re a hunter, you enjoy recreational shooting, or have family heirloom guns in your collection, you should consider whether your estate plan includes adequate measures for passing on your guns.
Without proper planning, your executor or beneficiaries could unintentionally break the law.
The first thing to consider is who can legally inherit a firearm.
Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, several categories of people are federally prohibited from owning guns. These include felons and people with mental illnesses and those with dishonorable discharges, domestic violence convictions, and domestic restraining orders.
Unless you are fully aware of and involved with your beneficiary’s life, it’s possible that you may unwittingly leave your fire arm to an uneligible person. Your beneficiary may, unknown to you, fall into one of the prohibited categories.
Likewise, your executor may not know whether the recipient falls into one of these prohibited categories. In that case, both the transferor, and receiptient could be deemed to have exercised criminal behavior.
Other complications arise when you leave instructions to pass your firearms on to a particular younger relative, but they are still a minor at the time of inheritance. An individual must be 18 years old to take possession of a rifle and 21 to own a pistol.
Here are some other factors:
The nature of the firearm
The National Firearm Act puts additional restrictions on certain types of guns, including short-barreled rifles and shotguns, suppressors, machine guns, and large caliber weapons.
These items cannot be transported or handled by another individual unless the registered owner is present, which presents a complicated challenge when the owner has passed away.
When the beneficiary lives in another state
State laws may require additional background checks, permits, and notifications to transport a firearm across state lines.
Risk of incompetence
If you are deemed incompetent before your death, your firearms may be subject to immediate confiscation.
All of the above complications can be addressed using a gun trust.
A trust allows you to add additional protections to the gift, such as requiring that your children reach a certain age, complete a safety course, or meet other requirements as you deem appropriate.
Trusts also provide a way to avoid probate, allowing you to keep your gun collection private and out of the public record. In addition, trusts can offer a system for sharing the firearm among multiple beneficiaries, such as two children using the gun in alternating years.
Likewise, trusts can relieve pressure on your executor. You can name a trustee who knows federal and state gun law and is comfortable managing these assets. (Alternately, your representative can hire the services of a Federal Firearm Licensee, such as a licensed gun dealer, to hold the items and manage the required forms and background checks.)
A gun trust provides a mechanism by which your trustee can legally possess NFA-restricted items before they are distributed to your heirs.
Trusts can provide a mechanism for keeping the items in the family for future generations, and they can protect your collection from confiscation if you’re found incompetent.
Finally, in the case of NFA-restricted firearms, a trust can simplify the transfer, registration, and approval process.
Make sure you ask questions of a qualified professional before the need to pass on these items becomes necessary, or before you become incapacitated to make these decisions yourself.