What is a Gun Trust? Do I Need One?

If you are not a gun collector, you may not have heard of the term “gun trust.”  Even if you have heard of it, you may not understand what a gun trust is, how it works, or how it can be of use in an estate plan.

A gun trust is a revocable or irrevocable management trust established to hold the title to your firearms.  The trust is a legal entity, it becomes appointed as the legal owner of the firearm, and ownership is shifted to the trust or bought by the trust.  Revocable trusts are more common, as they can be amended during the lifetime of the grantor.  A trustee is designated to administer the trust for the trust’s recipients.

What are gun trusts used for?

Although 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.  Examples of these weapons would include a fully automatic machine gun or a short-barreled shotgun or a suppressor, sometimes called a silencer.  The transport and ownership of firearms that are so heavily regulated can easily become a felony without the owner even knowing they are breaking the law.

Even if there are no Title II guns owned, there still may be important benefits in setting up this trust.  For example, an owner of a large collection of firearms may find it easier to transfer ownership of his or her weapons to a gun trust, reasons being protection of privacy, allowing for the disposition of the collection, and addressing the possibility of incapacitation. 

What are the benefits of a gun trust?

  • More than one person may possess and use the weapons.   If the trust is set up properly to allow for beneficiaries and/or co- or successor trustees, other individuals may legally be allowed to possess or use the firearm held in trust.  This may prevent any of those individuals from committing an “accidental felony.”
  • The gun or gun collection may be kept in trust after the owner’s death, allowing the grantor/owner to pass on the weapons in the manner desired.
  • The executor of the estate has an easier job.  Executors who are not familiar with the rules surrounding NFA Title II could accidentally break criminal laws by sending the gun to a state where it is prohibited, giving it to someone who may not legally own it, or transferring without following proper procedures.  (With a gun trust, the trustee is in charge of the trust assets, not the executor.  It is important to name a trustee who is familiar with state and federal weapons laws, or who recognizes the need to seek advice from a qualified attorney).
  • With a gun trust, probate is avoided, because the firearms held by a trust do not need to go through probate.

Is there a downside to setting up a gun trust?

Not a downside, but there are some precautions that need to be observed when setting up a gun trust:

  • All persons labeled as co-trustees must go through the NFA process including fingerprints, photos, responsible person questionnaire, etc. for each NFA purchase.
  • You want to make sure that your trust is set up by an attorney with a thorough knowledge of the NFA process, and current on any new regulations.
  • Remember that you are doing this to make sure you don’t run afoul of the law, not looking for a shortcut that ignores the law.

Because it is a specialty within the legal profession, you can always count on the gun trust lawyers at Pyfer Reese in Lancaster for their counsel and advisement on whether this type of trust is right for you.         

Posted in News on by Pyfer Reese.