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Estate Planning For Gun Owners

Estate planning can be a complex task for every adult in America, regardless of your net worth and your background or expertise in finance. This issue depends not only on the amount of land and property that you may need to leave to your children and/or heirs, but also on particular items that you may own. As you may imagine, laws that govern estate planning are complex and difficult to navigate in some situations, so understanding the provisions that apply to you and your estate is an important part of the process.

Recent numbers indicate that 38 percent of American homes house at least one individual who owns one or more guns, and those who choose to live off the grid often choose to own several guns to protect themselves and the other residents of their home. These guns may also often be used for hunting and feeding families, and when properly licensed, present no threat to the sovereignty of American laws. Unlike other property, however, guns cannot simply be left to others in the same way that you would leave other property.

Bequeathing typical property to others involves simply mentioning both the item and the beneficiary. However, guns are subject to strict regulations that you may not have accounted for in the first draft of your will. For example, you may not leave guns to veterans who have been dishonorably discharged or to individuals who have renounced their U.S. citizenship in favor of another country. The particular regulations that may apply to your estate depend on your location, as there are unique regulations in each state in addition to the National Firearms Act (NFA). This requires some research on your part before drafting your will, as you may be in compliance with federal regulations and still be in violation of some relevant state statute.

Under the NFA, you may not leave your gun(s) to anyone convicted of a felony, domestic violence charges, or drug trafficking charges. If you attempt to leave your guns to someone in your will in violation of either state or federal regulations, your guns will likely be seized by either the federal or state regulatory agencies. You may also be placing the executor of your will in a legal predicament that they would likely be unprepared to face. The executor of your estate could face both criminal and civil charges for attempting to dispense of your guns and/or weaponry in line with your wishes. If your will or trust doesn’t comply with federal, state, and local regulations, your estate may also be subject to a fine of $250,000. A prison sentence of up to ten years may also be levied against your estate, though this may be applied to the executor of your estate.

To avoid these complex gun regulations, do not choose to dispense of your guns via your will. Instead, work with your attorney to create something called a revocable living trust. This document can be drafted to address any number of legal issues that your traditional will may not be equipped to include. Draft this document specifically to transfer ownership of your guns and/or weapons upon your death. This strategy is one of the least expensive and most straightforward ways to leave your guns to someone, as there are no annual fees involved in maintaining a revocable living trust. This trust also doesn’t require either yourself or the executor of your estate to file yearly tax returns, simplifying the process. The most common strategy is to name yourself and/or your spouse as trustee of the living trust. This means that while you are alive, you are responsible for the conditions and provisions of the trust. Establish the living trust early on, and you can continue to edit the trust and manage your guns throughout your life. As you acquire more guns, you can file paperwork to include new weapons in the trust. You can also sell the weapons or transfer them to someone else. The revocable trust becomes irrevocable only upon your death, at which time the provisions of the trust become binding. Upon your death, the property is transferred to your beneficiary or beneficiaries.

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The way this process works is quite simple. You establish a trust and then transfer ownership of the guns to the trust. Drafting the legal paperwork to create the trust is a delicate process, because the papers must account for each of the guns or types of guns that are being transferred to the trust. A provision in the trust will transfer ownership to your beneficiary or beneficiaries upon your death. Although establishing a living trust is a much more simple process than leaving your guns to someone in your will, the trust will of course still be subject to regulations. Most notably, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is responsible for regulations that will affect your gun trust. Upon your death, the BATFE must approve transfer of your guns and/or other weapons from the trust to your benefactors. Unlike a will, there is no transfer fee for moving guns from the trust to your beneficiary. Like the regulations involved with a will, you may not leave your guns to any restricted personnel. There are also some peculiar aspects to the living trust; for example, anyone named in the trust can use the gun or weapons, whether they’re legally a minor or not.

Whether you plan on using a revocable living trust to bequeath your guns or not, you need to familiarize yourself with the regulations in your state that govern how you dispense of your guns upon death. You can contact the branch of state government that deals with gun regulations, or you can work with an attorney familiar with the regulations that will likely affect your estate planning. Regulations are divided into two categories by federal law. The 1968 Gun Control Act creates two categories of firearms. Title I firearms include rifles, handguns, and shotguns, and the transfer of these weapons is subject to state regulations. Title II firearms include machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, silencers, bombs, grenades, and other weapons not explicitly mentioned. These firearms are regulated by the BATFE and the NFA.

One thing that you should consider when evaluating how to appropriate your guns after your death is the type of weapon in question. While you may be able to adequately plan provisions for Title I and Title II weapons, guns that were brought home from war are often categorized in extremely specific ways that can make transferring those weapons to another individual difficult. Make sure that you’ve registered these guns appropriately and/or filed any paperwork that is necessary to adhere to federal and state regulations. Include instructions along with the revocable living trust to govern the logistical transfer of weapons upon your death. With a living trust (unlike a will), there is no executor. For this reason, your beneficiaries will need to know exactly where you store your weapons, and they will need access to any keys or storage containers that your guns are held in. You should also account for any licenses that your beneficiaries will need in order to take control of the guns. In the provisions of your living trust, make sure you include detailed accounts of each weapon. These accounts should include the features and appraisals of each gun, as well as any history associated with the piece or pieces. This way, if your beneficiaries choose to sell the gun or guns left to them, they’ll be prepared with the information they need to make an appropriate sale.

In short, researching state regulations and NFA regulations is a crucial step in the estate planning process for any gun owners. If your weapons are important enough to include in your will, it is crucial that you take the necessary steps so that they can be passed down to your heirs.

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