Gun Trusts Allow You to Legally Pass Down Your Firearms

The mechanism protects you, your family and beneficiaries from breaking federal law

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on June 17, 2022

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With each passing year, the regulations on firearms become more stringent for gun owners. While these regulations and prohibitions loom in the distance, responsible firearms owners can protect themselves and loved ones from being subject to search and seizure of a gun collection through something called a gun trust.

What Is a Gun Trust?

Gun trusts are a legal vehicle to allow you and your family to enjoy and fire many of the items that the National Firearms Act (NFA) have regulated. These types of trusts allow you to transfer, possess and use regulated arms, and allows, after transfer requirements are met, the beneficiaries of your trust to do the same.

The NFA regulates all firearms in the U.S., and designates them as Title i and Title ii firearms. Title 1 arms are considered ordinary, while Title ii are regulated or prohibited under the NFA. Title ii Weapons include:

  • Machine guns: fully automatic and burst fire firearms and conversion kits

  • Short-barreled rifles: a rifled barrel less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches. This also includes pistols that are converted into rifles

  • Short-barreled shotguns: a smooth bore barrel less than 18 inches or an overall length less than 26 inches

  • Silencers: suppressors and the components needed to create a silencing effect

  • Destructive devices: this includes grenades, bombs and non-shotgun firearms with a barrel bore of greater than half an inch

  • Any other weapons: the catchall for other prohibited weapons including concealable weapon or historical curios and relics

In addition to the federal laws regulating firearms are often heavier regulations from the state. Pursuant to Minnesota State law, any machine gun is illegal for those without licenses to own, carry and use Title ii firearms. Short-barreled shotguns are also prohibited in Minnesota. It is good practice to check with a licensed firearms dealer about the legality of owning any NFA-weapons.

If you don’t have a gun trust in place for an NFA-regulated item, even inadvertent access to that firearm could be cause for seizure. For example, if you had a machine gun in a safe along with other weapons and a spouse or other family member has access to that safe, if they aren’t specially licensed in that weapon or the beneficiary to your trust, it is technically a violation of the law. In fact, it is considered a felony and your gun rights could be removed for life.

A gun trust is like an insurance policy for the future of your Title ii weapons, allowing them to be shared and passed down to beneficiaries without fear of violating federal law. It allows a collection to be seamlessly passed to a designated person or persons following the incapacity or death of the original owner. They even prevent firearms from passing into probate and being heavily taxed upon transfer.

These trusts are created to specifically handle and hold a firearms collection; there are no filing fees or reports that this entity must create; there are no annual fees or tax filings beyond the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) tax stamps; and they allow an owner full privacy and access control over their weapons.

These are not simple forms, and each firearm contained in the trust may have different forms and filings required in order to correctly structure these legal entities. As a result, these trusts should be created by an experienced and reputable estate planning attorney who can give you legal advice about gun law.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate and estate administration.

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