Many of you have asked your estate-planning lawyer about Gun Trusts and have not been able to find anyone who knows about them. This is not hard to believe because other than some materials I have produced or talked to others about there is no text book on gun trusts.
We work with lawyers in every state to help them prepare gun trusts for clients in their state while providing them a resource for the knowledge and information necessary to understand the ownership, transfer and possession of firearms.
In 2006, I recognized the need to create a Trust for NFA and regular firearms. It was at that time, that I created the Gun Trust. A Gun Trust is based on the traditional concepts of estate planning. Traditional trusts deal with all types of assets that are primarily financially based, but a Gun Trust only deals with firearms. They are not meant to circumvent federal or state laws, as many would have you believe. Trusts were clearly contemplated as owners of firearms by the National Firearms Act. The National Firearms Act (NFA), requires a tax to be paid to own, possess or transfer guns such as machine guns, short barreled rifles and shotguns, silencers or sound suppressors, and AOWs. They are referred to as Title 2 firearms because they are regulated under Title 2 of the 1968 Gun Control Act. Normal firearms are regulated under Title I of the Gun Control Act. Many people mistakenly call them Class 3 weapons, but Class 3 refers to a license or Special Occupational Tax (SOT) that an FFL must obtain prior to buying or selling Title II Firearms.
History of the National Firearms Act
The NFA was passed in 1934 in response to the criminal activity of the time. It imposed a $200 tax on certain firearms thought to be contributing to the growing crime problem. In an effort to discourage the possession of these types of firearms, individuals were required to register them with the government and pay a tax of $200. Once this tax is paid, the owner will receive a Tax Stamp for the $200 that needs to be kept with the firearm. This tax stamp identifies the owner who is permitted to be in possession, and in what state the firearm can be located. Later the NFA was amended to further restrict certain items called Any Other Weapons ( an "AOW"). The tax to purchase an AOW was only $5 but to build one the tax was the same $200 as with other Title II firearms.
The NFA was designed to have strict requirements and carries stiff penalties for violations. Only an individual, business entity, or trust may own a Title II firearm in the civilian community. In addition, only the owner or their representative may be in possession of that firearm. Illegal possession, transfer, or ownership of a Title II firearm carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $250,000, loss of the firearms, and loss of the vessel (vehicle, or home) that the illegal firearms were contained. The NFA defines possession to include loaning so it is important to understand the concept of constructive possession and why individual ownership poses many risks to the average family. Many people mistakenly believe it is ok to let someone else use their Title II firearm if they are close buy, inside a closed fence, hand is on their left solder, or can see them. Even if these were permitted, imagine bringing a silencer home from a gunsmith or range. While you are on the phone your spouse grab your keys to go shopping. Surely you would not believe that this was permitted transfer or possession of a Title II firearm without pre-approval and paying the Tax. A Gun Trust can help protect and manage Title II firearms from these common issues.
Title 2 firearms must be registered with the ATF through application process. Whether you are purchasing a Firearm from a dealer with a Class 3 SOT or building your own Title II firearms, you must first go pay and obtain approval from the ATF to have it transferred or to build the firearm. For an individual the ATF requires that you fill out the appropriate form, affix a two-by-two inch photograph of yourself along with fingerprints, and have the application signed by your local chief law enforcement officer (the "CLEO") In addition you must include the tax fee which is typically $200 for each Title II firearm. Once the application is approved the person or entity who submitted the application will receive notice and the firearm may then be created or transferred. The approval time may take anywhere from three to six months.
The NFA Gun Trust
NFA gun trusts have become popular in recent years as an alternative to individual registration because of the flexibility they offer after the firearm is purchase as well as not requiring the photos, fingerprints, or CLEO signature. The Gun Trust can allow other managers or trustees of the trust to uses the firearms. State law controls the formalities of creating a trust and while in some cases lesser formalities may be required, it is recommended that you comply with the formalities other states to simplify the process and authorization in the case that you or others involved with the trust do not live in the same state where the trust was created. There are basically four types of people or entities that are involved with a Gun Trust: grantor/settlor, trustee, successor trustee and beneficiary.
The grantor or settlor is the person who creates the Gun Trust to manage who and how and when others will have access to or can use firearms within the Trust. A Trustee will submit the application to ATF but instead of registering the firearm in their name, he or she will list the Gun Trust as the owner. Trustees are also the individuals who will hold the trust property for one set of people during the grantor's life and the beneficiaries after the death of the grantor. Trustees may legally possess NFA weapons in the trust even though they are not listed on the application. In most cases a Trustee should be at least 18 years old (federal law prohibits anyone under 18 buying NFA firearms, and anyone under 21 from purchasing NFA firearms from a FFL with a Class 3 SOT) and not be otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms. A well drafted Gun Trust Lawyer® can craft provisions to allow for minor children to use the firearms with adult supervision. The beneficiary is the individual who receives the trust property upon the occurrence of a defined event that is often the death of the grantor. A well-drafted gun trust will deal with the many issues that arise in the event that one of the beneficiaries is a minor child, immature, or a prohibited person at the time the grantor dies.
Advantages of a Gun Trust
Gun Trusts should be very flexible. While most are established as a revocable trusts there are many advantages to using an irrevocable trust that are not available to a Gun Trust that is revocable. While many irrevocable trust have significant disadvantages, it is possible to intentionally violate tax code and remove the disadvantages. This type of trust is called an intentionally defective irrevocable trust.
Another advantage is that a Gun Trust does not require the Fingerprints, photographs, and CLEO approval. Not only can this speed up the process, but it also is more private.
While business entities have some of the same benefits as a Trust, they often involve yearly expenses, formalities, and are not designed to deal with ownership, transfer, possession, and use of firearms like a Gun Trust.
While many Gun Trusts are not designed to protect your firearms for generations or from creditors of yourself or your family, there is a Professional version of the Gun Trust that is designed to do both. If you are concerned about giving children and future family members that ability to use firearms if it should become illegal to transfer these firearms later or what to protect your guns from creditors, you should ask about the Multi-Generational Asset Protection Gun Trust.
Top 12 signs that you may not have a real gun trust.
1) You were told to put only NFA firearms in your trust
2) Your Trust talks about real estate, stocks, your house, and guardians of children
3) Your trust instructs others to break the law if you become incapacitated or die.
4) Your trust allows You to dissolve your trust without any prior actions
5) Co-Trustees are listed right in your trust document
6) Your Trust uses a Schedule A
7) Your Trust requires the sale of your firearms to pay you income if I become incapacitated.
8) Your trust does not specifically allow for the purchase of firearms in the powers
9) Your trust does not mention guns, the NFA, Title II, Prohibited Persons, or uses incorrect terms like Class 3 firearms.
10) Your trust did not come with an extensive manual and how to section describing almost everything you could possibly think of.
11) You were told the Gun Trust was designed to circumvent laws.
12) Your trust does not contain a Copyright by Gun Trust Lawyer® David M. Goldman
For more information on whether a NFA Gun Trust or Gun Trust makes sense for your circumstances, use the contact form on this page to receive more information on Gun Trusts.