People who own firearms for recreational activities such as hunting and target shooting, as well as those who use them for protection or just collect them, may want to pass those weapons on to their heirs when they die. But because of laws regulating firearms, the transfer to an heir or beneficiary must be done very carefully to avoid violating the law. Gun trusts are one estate planning solution for avoiding legal issues with the transfer of your firearms.
While gun trusts have been in use for some time, recent developments in the federal and state legislatures to increase restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms has led to an increase in the popularity of these trusts. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF or BATFE) reports an increase in these trusts from just over 26,000 in 2011 to close to 40,000 in 2012.
There are numerous reasons why gun trusts can be useful in transferring a weapon that you own to an heir or beneficiary after your death. The trustee who administers the trust after your death will be able to consider current relevant factors before any weapons are transferred. One consideration would be the state where the firearms are located and the state where a beneficiary lives, as some states have tougher restrictions on the possession of certain weapon. And other factors may prevent individuals from possessing or owning guns. For example, convicted felons, dishonorably discharged veterans, those who have been legally ruled as mentally incompetent and those who have been convicted of even a misdemeanor domestic violence charge may not own weapons in some states.
Obviously there are many obstacles in legally transferring even one weapon to another individual. Consulting an estate planning attorney who understands the use of a gun trust is critically important to the legality of the transfer.