Gun owners, you may own guns to protect your family or because you admire the workmanship or history of firearms. However, without a gun trust, your heirs may face a surprising consequence.
Mistakes with inherited IRS accounts can become expensive, but the penalty is financial. Inherit a gun collection without the necessary permits and you could unwittingly commit a felony. Gun collectors need to prepare their heirs if they intend to pass on their firearms and they also need a gun trust.
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 management trust that’s created to take title to firearms.
Revocable trusts are used more often because they can be changed during the lifetime of the grantor.
While it’s true that any legally owned weapon can be placed into a gun trust, these trusts are specifically used 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 is a gun trust an important component of an estate plan? When the grantor owns 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 weapons upon the death of the grantor to family members or other heirs. However, that transferee is required to 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 can be used to allow 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 appointed as 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 and addressing the possibility of incapacity. A gun trust can also ease the process for your heirs. 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.
There are federal and state laws about ownership and how to transfer ownership of firearms, so you’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney who has experience with both.
Reference: Kiplinger (February 6, 2019) “Own a Gun? Careful: You Might Need a Gun Trust”