A gun trust, commonly known as an NFA Gun Trust, is a helpful estate planning tool for those who want to legally and easily pass down their firearms to their beneficiaries.
What is a Gun Trust?
A gun trust can be used to transfer any firearm to a grantor’s beneficiaries, but people often use them for passing down Title II (Class 3), or NFA firearms, due to the increased legal restrictions on transferring these types of weapons. Unlike furniture, jewelry, or other valuable assets you might want to pass down, firearms, particularly Title II firearms, require careful planning to avoid legal issues. Therefore, you can prudently distribute them to beneficiaries through a trust rather than through other estate planning measures.
What are Title II Firearms?
Title II firearms, also known as NFA (National Firearms Act) firearms, are weapons that are more strictly regulated than the typical Title I firearms that can be easily purchased from your local gun store. The National Firearms Act requires the registration of shotguns having barrels shorter than 18 inches, rifles having barrels shorter than 16 inches, modified shotguns shorter than 26 inches or having a barrel shorter than 18 inches, modified rifles shorter than 26 inches or having barrels less than 16 inches in length, machine guns, silencers/suppressors, destructive devices, and certain firearms described as “any other weapons.”
The transfer of Title II firearms typically requires the transferee to share their fingerprints and photographs with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), receive law enforcement certification, pay a $200 tax, and fill out an application. Wait times vary, but approvals for these transfers take several months.
What are the advantages of an NFA Trust?
There are many benefits to an NFA gun trust. If a grantor puts their NFA firearms in a gun trust, then the guns belong to the trust, rather than to an individual, and the beneficiaries avoid the typical, lengthy ATF transfer process. This means the beneficiaries don’t have to share their fingerprints and photographs with the ATF, receive law enforcement certification, pay the $200 tax, fill out the application, or wait several months for the transfer.
By avoiding transfer requirements, grantors can use gun trusts to leave their Title II firearms to more than one person. Every trustee associated with the trust would have the right to possess or use the firearms, which would not normally be possible with Title II weapons. Even before the grantor becomes incapacitated, the trustees would have right to use the Title II firearms in the trust, which would not otherwise be legal if the weapons belonged solely to an individual. Another benefit of gun trusts, and trusts in general, is that because the assets are already transferred to the trust before the grantor’s death, they avoid the lengthy probate process. Probate is the judicial process whereby a will accepted as valid, and the deceased’s estate is administered.
Gun trusts are also beneficial in that they can protect the executor of the deceased’s estate from potential legal trouble. An untrained executor could run into trouble based on state and federal laws restricting gun ownership. For example, certain people with criminal records are prohibited from owning or using Title II weapons, and some states have completely banned these weapons.
For these reasons, you may also consider putting your Title I firearms in a gun trust. Federal and state laws prohibit certain persons from owning any type of firearm. A gun trust could be set up to automatically remove a trustee if they become prohibited from owning either Title I or Title II firearms.
Furthermore, gun trusts can help keep the transfer of firearms a private matter. The probate process is public record, and some people may want to avoid their gun transfer and ownership information from becoming publicly available. If a gun trust is set up ahead of time with an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable on gun laws, many of these issues can be avoided altogether.
Our experienced estate planning attorneys want to help you and your beneficiaries keep your firearms and avoid accidental legal trouble in the process. If you are thinking of establishing a gun trust or are interested in estate planning in general, schedule your free consultation.