If you own a gun or are a gun collector, although you likely have heard the term “gun trust,” you may not know what it is, how it works or how it can be of use in an estate plan.
Kiplinger’s recent article, “Own a Gun? Careful: You Might Need a Gun Trust,” explains that a gun trust is the common name for a revocable or irrevocable trust that’s created to take title to firearms.
Revocable trusts are used most often, because they can be changed during the lifetime of person who created the trust.
While it’s true that any legally owned weapon can be placed into a gun trust, these trusts are necessary for weapons that are classified under the National Firearms Act (NFA) Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. These include Title II weapons, such as a fully automatic machine gun, a short-barreled shotgun and a suppressor (“silencer”).
Why might a gun trust be an important component of an estate plan? It’s very simple. If you own Title II weapons, the transport and transfer of ownership of such heavily regulated firearms can easily be a felony (without the owner or heir even realizing he or she is breaking the law).
A gun trust provides for an orderly transfer of the weapon upon the owner’s death to a family member or other beneficiary. However, the family member or beneficiary must submit to a background check and identification process before taking possession of the firearm.
An NFA Title II weapon, like a suppressor, can only be used by the person to whom it’s registered. Therefore, allowing a friend or family member to fire a few rounds with a Title II weapon at the local range is a felony! A gun trust however, allows for the use of the Title II weapon by multiple parties. Each party who will have access to and use of the weapon should be a co-trustee of the gun trust and must go through the same required background check and identification requirements.
An owner of a large collection of firearms may find it easier to transfer ownership of his or her weapons to a gun trust, even if the person doesn’t own any Title II weapons. There are several benefits to doing this, such as protecting your privacy, allowing for the disposition of your collection according to your wishes, and addressing the possibility of incapacity. A gun trust can also ease the entire process considerably. You don’t want to run afoul of the complex laws regarding the use and ownership of firearms, especially Title II firearms. Leaving a large collection of Title I weapons—or even a single Title II weapon—in an estate to be dealt with by an executor or trustee can be extremely troublesome. Fortunately, it’s avoidable with the use of a gun trust.
Speak to an estate planning attorney who has experience and understands the federal and state laws on the ownership and transfer requirements of all firearms.
Reference: Kiplinger (February 6, 2019) “Own a Gun? Careful: You Might Need a Gun Trust”