When it comes to estate planning, not all assets are created equal. If you own one or more guns, careful planning is required to avoid running afoul of complex federal and state laws. Without proper planning, there’s a risk that the government will confiscate your guns or that the executor of your estate, your trustees or your beneficiaries will inadvertently commit a felony.
Follow federal, state and local laws
Guns are unique among personal property because federal and state laws prohibit certain persons from possessing firearms. For example, under the federal Gun Control Act, “prohibited persons” include convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful drug users or addicts, mentally incompetent persons, illegal or nonimmigrant aliens, persons dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, persons who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, and persons convicted of certain crimes involving domestic violence or subject to certain domestic violence restraining orders.
Other persons may be prohibited from receiving firearms under state or local laws. These restrictions apply not only to your beneficiaries, but also to executors or trustees who come into possession of firearms.
Under federal law, certain firearms — such as short-barreled rifles, shotguns and fully automatic machine guns — must be registered (with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to a transferee by the transferor. And additional steps must be taken when transporting these firearms across state lines. For other types of firearms, states may require registration and may impose mandatory background checks, permits and other requirements for firearms transported across state lines.
Consider a gun trust
Given the complexity of federal and state gun laws, and the stiff penalties for violating them, it’s critical to consult knowledgeable advisors when providing for guns in your estate plan. You might also consider creating a gun trust — with a trustee who has expertise on gun laws, safety and storage protocols, and transfer requirements — to facilitate the process.