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The Importance of Gun Trusts in Estate Planning

The Importance of Gun Trusts in Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, many people think about wills, revocable living trusts, and powers of attorney. However, if you own firearms, especially those regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA), a Gun Trust might be an essential part of your estate plan.

  1. Who Needs a Gun Trust?

A Gun Trust, also known as a firearm trust or NFA trust, is particularly beneficial for individuals who own or plan to own NFA-regulated firearms. These include:

– Collectors: Those with a collection of firearms, especially those with significant monetary or sentimental value.

– Hunters and Sports Shooters: Individuals who use firearms for hunting or sport shooting.

– Heirs of Firearms: People who wish to pass down firearms to their heirs without the complications of probate.

– Multiple Users: Families or groups who want to share access to firearms legally.

  1. What Types of Guns Qualify?

Not all firearms require a Gun Trust, but those regulated under the NFA do. These include:

– Machine Guns: Fully automatic firearms.

– Short-Barreled Rifles (SBRs): Rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches.

– Short-Barreled Shotguns (SBSs): Shotguns with barrels shorter than 18 inches.

– Silencers: Devices designed to suppress the sound of a firearm.

– Destructive Devices: Such as grenades and other explosive weapons.

– Any Other Weapons (AOWs): A category that includes certain concealable weapons.

  1. Does the Gun Trust own the Firearms?

Yes, a gun trust can acquire and possess rifles, pistols, and shotgun (Non-NFA or GCA) firearms.

A trust is not a person under Title I of the Gun Control Act, so no background check can be performed at a Federal Firearms License (commonly referred to as an “FFL”) for a direct purchase by a trust or trustee.  This is different from an NFA firearm under Title II.  However, a trust can acquire non-NFA firearms directly from a private party if no FFL or background check is required and it can possess firearms lawfully transferred to it with an assignment or bill of sale.

  1. What is the Legal Process?

Federal law effective July 13, 2016, requires each “Responsible Person” to provide documentation (Form 23) when filing an application to make (Form 1) or transfer (Form 4 or 5) an NFA Firearm.  This requires you (the Trust’s Grantor), each serving Trustee, and anyone having certain power or authority over the trust and trust property, to provide a copy of the Form 23 to the local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) as notification.  The application (Form 1, 4, or 5) and all required documentation (Form 23, fingerprints, photographs) as well as the payment is then submitted to the NFA Branch.  The NFA Branch will conduct a background check on any individuals as part of your application.  Check out www.atf.gov/firearms for more information.

  1. Why is a Gun Trust Important?

Generally, a Gun Trust is a superior way to acquire, possess and share firearms and accessories because it provides some protection against commission of an “accidental felony” – an unlawful transfer of a firearm that results in unlawful possession… even if you and the other person truly believed you were acting lawfully.

A Gun Trust is useful because it allows you to document why someone other than you is or will be in possession of your firearm.  Both federal and state law can make it criminal for any other person to possess your registered firearm.  Title I firearms have different requirements than Title II firearms, and each state may also have its own requirements.

In short, here are the five basic reasons to create a Gun Trust:

    1. Avoid Probate: A Gun Trust allows firearms to be transferred to beneficiaries without going through probate, ensuring a smoother and quicker transfer.
    2. Compliance with Laws: It helps ensure compliance with federal and state laws, which can be complex and stringent.
    3. Allow Shared Access: Multiple trustees can be named, allowing more than one person to legally possess and use the firearms.
    4. Privacy: Unlike a will, a trust is not a public document that will be filed in public records upon your death, which helps maintain privacy regarding firearm ownership.
    5. Continued Use: Beneficiaries can continue to use the firearms without interruption, as the Gun Trust remains in effect even after the original owner’s death.

Creating a Gun Trust can be a crucial step in ensuring that your firearms are managed and transferred according to your wishes, while also complying with all legal requirements. If you own NFA-regulated firearms and a Gun Trust is not currently in place, Longa Law Firm can help you.  Please schedule a consultation with Attorney Lesly Longa Vaillancourt to discuss creation of a Trust plan that includes your firearms. We’re here to help.