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Transferring Ownership of Firearms in Your State: A Complicated Matter

By Roger Bair

No matter in what state you reside, gun control is a timely topic. Gun laws continually change, and if you are a gun owner, you have a responsibility to remain aware of the laws when it comes to your estate plan. This brief article is not intended to provide legal advice but instead encourages you to consider your guns as items that require specific attention within a carefully considered estate plan.

Gun laws are some of the most varied and complex laws that exist. To author a comprehensive article on the topic would overwhelm most, including myself, but there are two elements that you need to consider for the purpose of developing your estate plan in relation to your firearms. First, the states and the federal government have developed multiple classifications of guns that are not necessarily consistent among federal and state laws. Second, depending on specific classifications, there are different requirements for who can possess and inherit ownership of a particular firearm and what has to occur before ownership and possession of said firearm can be transferred.

Such classifications include National Firearms Act (NFA) and non-NFA weapons; banned, registered, non-registered firearms; and many others. Classifications can be based on firearm barrel length, total length, firing mechanism, attachments, and many other criteria. Special attention also should be paid to the word possession. In the absence of a well-formed and communicated estate plan, a personal representative (i.e., the person you appoint to administer your wishes) could find him- or herself in serious trouble should he or she not properly understand these classifications and gun laws and thus mismanage the transfer of ownership of your firearms.

When developing their respective estate plans, gun owners often consider a gun trust or an “NFA Gun Trust.” While these complex documents serve many functional legal roles, they are often misunderstood in regard to their estate-planning function. Although a gun trust may be used as part of an estate plan, it is more functionally designed as a legal tool in during the life of the firearms owner. The NFA Gun Trust is of great value in assisting in the acquisition of NFA regulated firearms by reducing the need for certain requirements when purchasing (or personally creating) an NFA firearm while also creating a legal way to share use of these weapons (which would/may otherwise be prohibited).

So, do you need to consider a gun trust as part of your estate plan?

That is a question for an attorney who understands your situation and the applicable gun laws. When developing estate plans for gun owners whose collection is composed of “conventional” rifles, shotguns, and handguns not governed by the NFA, many lawyers will not require a gun trust and can appropriately direct the bequest of these firearms within your will after careful consideration of the law and your beneficiaries.

If you would like to discuss such gun law issues or other specific matters when developing or revising your estate plan, our team at the Financial Consulate can review with you what elements could affect your plan and can help you find the right legal professional to ensure that your estate wishes are fulfilled and that your plan fits within the law.

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