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Are you considering getting a gun trust? 

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • what is a gun trust
  • how gun trusts work
  • types of firearms covered by gun trusts
  • benefits, disadvantages, pros, and cons of gun trusts
  • how to set up a gun trust and transfer guns into them
  • common mistakes people make setting up gun trusts

Let’s dig in.

Table of Contents

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What Is A Gun Trust?

A gun trust is a legal arrangement that allows multiple people to jointly own and possess firearms. 

It is often used to comply with federal regulations and simplify the transfer of firearms. 

The trust holds the firearms on behalf of the beneficiaries, who can be family members or friends. 

This arrangement provides certain benefits, such as:

  • streamlined inheritance
  • the ability to share and use the firearms legally 

Creating a gun trust involves:

  • drafting a trust document 
  • following the relevant state and federal laws

How Does A Gun Trust Work?

A gun trust is a legal tool that holds and manages firearms. 

Here’s a breakdown of how a gun trust works:

  • Creation: Make a legal document with a gun trust lawyer who knows gun laws. This document sets the trust’s rules and lists trustees and beneficiaries.
  • Transfer Guns to Trust: Put the firearms under the trust’s ownership. For guns under the National Firearms Act (NFA), submit forms to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and pay tax stamps.
  • Trustees Manage Guns: The trust names trustees. They can have and use the trust’s guns. The main trustee, usually the creator, oversees the firearms and follows the law.
  • Trustees Share Guns: The trust lets several trustees use the guns legally. They don’t need extra background checks or transfers.
  • Plan for the Future: The trust can have a plan for transferring guns when the main trustee dies. This makes it smoother and legal for heirs to get the guns.
  • Trust Lives On: The trust stays, even after the creator’s death. This keeps the guns in the trust for new trustees and beneficiaries.
  • Clear Legal Rules: A good gun trust tells trustees how to follow gun laws. This lowers the chance of breaking the law by mistake.
  • Privacy and Legal Shields: The trust keeps things private, unlike personal ownership. Guns in the trust might also be safer from new gun laws.
  • Ending the Trust: The trust can have rules for ending it. When it ends, the guns go to the right people as the trust says.

Types Of Firearms Covered By Gun Trusts

A gun trust is a legal entity that facilitates the transfer, possession, and estate planning of firearms

And particularly those that are regulated by:

Guns Covered by Gun Trusts

  • Short-Barreled Rifles (SBRs): These are rifles with a barrel length of less than 16 inches. SBRs are heavily regulated, and an SBR trust can facilitate the legal possession of these firearms by multiple individuals (trustees).
  • Short-Barreled Shotguns (SBSs): Similar to SBRs, these are shotguns with a barrel length less than 18 inches. Possession through a national gun trust can ease the transfer and sharing process among trustees.
  • Suppressors (Silencers): These devices are attached to a firearm to reduce the noise of discharge. Suppressors are heavily regulated, and possessing them through a suppressor trust can simplify the legalities involved.
  • Machine Guns: These are firearms that are capable of firing more than one round with a single pull of the trigger. Only machine guns manufactured and registered before May 19, 1986, are legal for civilians to own, and a gun trust can be a useful tool in dealing with the complex regulations surrounding these firearms.
  • Destructive Devices: This category includes grenades, bombs, and large caliber firearms (over .50 caliber). A gun trust can be used to acquire and possess these devices legally, but they are also highly regulated.
  • Any Other Weapon (AOW): This is a broad category that includes firearms that do not fit into standard categories, such as pen guns, cane guns, and some smooth-bore pistols. A gun trust can be useful for possessing these unusual firearms.

Guns Not Typically Covered by Gun Trusts

  • Standard Rifles And Shotguns: These are typically not included in a gun trust as they are not subject to the same NFA regulations and can generally be purchased and possessed without the additional paperwork and tax stamps required for NFA items.
  • Handguns: Like standard rifles and shotguns, handguns are usually not subject to NFA regulations (unless they fall under AOW or another special category) and are typically not included in gun trusts.

Benefits Of Gun Trusts

An NFA gun trust helps with the legal side of owning and transferring firearms. 

It’s especially handy for guns under the National Firearms Act (NFA). 

NFA trust lawyers usually create these trusts. 

They tailor them to tackle specific legal issues tied to NFA-regulated guns. 

The list below outlines the perks and features of NFA gun trusts. 

These make them appealing for gun lovers and collectors.

  • Easier Transfer to Heirs: An NFA gun trust makes it easier to pass firearms to heirs after death. This is crucial for firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA), which have strict transfer rules. The NFA trust outlines a succession plan, letting firearms skip the usual probate legal process.
  • Shared Possession Among Trustees: An NFA trust allows several people to legally own and use the firearms in the trust. This is important for NFA items since usually only the registered owner can have them. The trust allows friends and family to use the firearms without breaking the law.
  • Avoidance of CLEO Signature: Before, individuals needed approval from the area’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) to acquire NFA items. NFA trusts didn’t need this. Although the rules have changed, NFA trusts still provide a streamlined process.
  • Continuity of Ownership: The NFA trust, as a separate legal entity, owns the firearms. This ensures continuous ownership even if the original creator passes away or trustees change.
  • Protection from Future Regulation Changes: If laws under the National Firearms Act change, having firearms in an NFA trust may offer some protection. This is known as being “grandfathered” in under old rules.
  • Privacy: NFA trusts are private legal entities. They usually provide more privacy when transferring firearms compared to individual transfers.
  • Clear Guidance for Legal Compliance: A well-constructed NFA gun trust, often drafted by an NFA trust lawyer, provides clear instructions for trustees. This helps them adhere to federal and state gun laws and reduces the risk of accidental violations.
  • Facilitated Estate Planning: For gun owners, an NFA gun trust is a vital tool in estate planning. An NFA trust lawyer can help tailor the trust to the owner’s desires regarding the firearms. This ensures that these desires are legally followed.

Read More: How Many Guns Does The Average American Own

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Gun Trust?

Some disadvantages of a gun trust are:

  • Costs: Setting up a gun trust involves legal fees and costs. You often need an attorney, and paying for tax stamps is expensive.
  • Paperwork: There’s a lot of paperwork. Managing ATF forms and keeping up with legal requirements is time-consuming.
  • Waiting Periods: Approval for transferring NFA firearms into a trust takes time. You may wait several months.
  • Complexity: Gun trusts are complex. Understanding and complying with federal and state laws can be challenging.
  • Limited Protection: A gun trust can’t fully shield you from future law changes. If new restrictions apply, your trust may be affected.
  • Responsibility: Trustees have legal responsibilities. If they misuse firearms or break laws, it can have serious consequences.
  • Limited Flexibility: Once firearms are in the trust, making changes can be difficult. It’s not as simple as handling personal ownership.
  • Trustee Risks: If a trustee becomes ineligible to possess firearms (e.g., due to a criminal conviction), it complicates the trust’s management.
  • Engraving Requirements: NFA items in a trust require engraving with the trust’s name. This can be inconvenient and alter the firearm’s appearance.
  • Estate Taxes: Depending on the trust structure and value of firearms, there might be estate tax implications.

Pros And Cons Of A Gun Trust

Some pros of having a gun trust are:

  • Shared Use: A gun trust allows multiple trustees to legally use and possess the firearms.
  • Easier Transfers to Heirs: It simplifies the transfer of firearms to beneficiaries after the owner’s death.
  • Avoid Probate: Firearms in a trust bypass the probate process.
  • Continued Ownership: The trust remains even if the original owner passes away, ensuring continued ownership.
  • Legal Compliance Guidance: It provides clear instructions on complying with firearms laws.
  • Protection from Law Changes: A trust may protect firearms from future legal changes.
  • Privacy: Gun trusts offer more privacy compared to individual ownership.

But, some cons of a gun trust are:

  • Cost: Setting up a gun trust can be expensive, especially if using a specialized attorney.
  • Complexity: Managing a trust involves paperwork and understanding legal requirements.
  • Limited Scope: The trust only covers firearms, not other assets.
  • Responsibility: Trustees must be trustworthy and follow the law, or the trust could face legal issues.
  • Time-Consuming: The process of setting up and maintaining a gun trust can be lengthy.
  • Legal Vulnerability: Mistakes in the trust document or management can lead to legal problems.
  • State Laws: Some states have different or restrictive laws regarding gun trusts, which may limit their benefits.

How To Set Up A Gun Trust

Setting up a gun trust involves legal steps. Here’s a streamlined guide for the U.S.:

  1. Study the Laws: Learn federal and state firearms laws before starting. Focus on the National Firearms Act (NFA). Laws differ by state.
  2. Talk to a Lawyer: Consult an NFA trust lawyer. They specialize in gun trusts and can help you comply with laws.
  3. Name the Trust: Pick a name for your trust. You’ll use this on documents and engrave it on certain guns, like NFA-regulated ones.
  4. Choose Trustee(s): Decide who can legally access the guns in the trust. Appoint one or more trustees. They can legally have and use the guns.
  5. Draft the Trust Document: With a lawyer, make the trust document. Include the trust’s name, trustees, beneficiaries (heirs for the guns), and other key details.
  6. Sign and Notarize the Trust: Sign the completed trust document and get it notarized. This makes it official.
  7. Add Firearms to the Trust: Transfer guns to the trust. For NFA items, submit ATF Form 4, fingerprints, and photos of responsible people in the trust, and pay a tax.
  8. Register with ATF: For NFA guns, register them with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Send in forms like ATF Form 4 or Form 1 and pay the required taxes.
  9. Wait for ATF Approval: ATF review takes months. After approval, ATF sends a stamped form as proof that the NFA gun is registered to the trust.
  10. Keep Documents Safe: Store the trust documents and ATF forms securely. Make sure trustees know where they are in case they need them for the guns.

How To Transfer Guns To Gun Trust

To add firearms to a gun trust, transfer the ownership of the guns to the trust. 

For regular firearms, this can be simple. 

It often only involves basic documentation for recording the transfer within the trust.

For NFA-regulated firearms:

  • submit ATF Form 4
  • provide fingerprints and photos
  • pay the transfer tax

To remove firearms from a gun trust, create a bill of sale or other transfer documents. 

For regular firearms, you can then transfer ownership to the new owner. 

For NFA-regulated firearms, the new owner must:

  • submit ATF Form 4
  • provide fingerprints and photos
  • pay the transfer tax

It’s essential to:

  • keep records of all transactions 
  • comply with federal and state laws

Here are the steps to transfer guns into a gun trust:

  1. Create Gun Trust: First, create a gun trust with the help of a gun trust attorney knowledgeable in gun laws.
  2. List Firearms: Make a list of the firearms you want to transfer to the trust.
  3. Fill Out ATF Form: For National Firearms Act (NFA) items, fill out ATF Form 4 or Form 1. This registers the firearm to the trust.
  4. Get Fingerprints and Photos: For NFA items, get fingerprints and passport-sized photos of all trustees. This is part of the background check.
  5. Pay Tax Stamp: Pay the required tax stamp for each NFA item. It’s typically $200.
  6. Submit Paperwork: Send the ATF forms, fingerprints, photos, and tax payments to the ATF.
  7. Wait for Approval: Wait for the ATF to process the forms. This may take several months.
  8. Engrave Trust Info: For NFA items, engrave the gun trust’s name on the firearm as required by law.
  9. Transfer Non-NFA Guns: For non-NFA guns, transfer them according to state laws. This might include a bill of sale documents or background checks.
  10. Store Documents: Keep copies of all documents, including the gun trust and ATF forms, in a safe place.
  11. Inform Trustees: Make sure all trustees know the rules for handling the firearms and where the documents are stored.

Updating Trustee Information

Updating trustee information in a gun trust is essential to keep it current. To update the information, follow these steps:

  1. Draft an Amendment: Create an amendment document that clearly states the changes you want to make, such as adding or removing trustees.
  2. Sign and Notarize: Both the current trustees and the trust’s creator should sign the amendment. Notarize the document to make it official.
  3. Attach Amendment to Trust: Add the signed and notarized amendment to the original gun trust document.
  4. Inform Trustees: Notify the current and new trustees about the changes.
  5. Update ATF (if Necessary): If the changes affect NFA-regulated firearms, you may need to inform the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Common Mistakes and Pitfalls With NFA Gun Trusts

Here are the issues that clients have when they ask us to fix their gun trusts:

  • Using Generic Forms: People often use one-size-fits-all forms. Customization is key for gun trusts to address specific needs and state laws.
  • Not Updating Trustees: Failing to update trustees can lead to unauthorized access. It’s important to keep the list current and legal.
  • Forgetting State Laws: Some people focus only on federal law. State laws also affect gun trusts, so it’s crucial to comply with both.
  • Improper Funding: Not properly transferring firearms to the trust is a mistake. This is needed to ensure legal ownership by the trust.
  • Skipping Details: Vague terms in the trust can create confusion. Clearly define roles, rights, and rules for trustees and beneficiaries.
  • Ignoring NFA Rules: Some people don’t comply with NFA engraving requirements. NFA firearms must have the trust name engraved on them.
  • Not Educating Trustees: Failing to inform trustees about legal responsibilities is risky. They should understand the laws governing the trust’s firearms.
  • Overlooking Changes in Law: Laws change. Ignoring new legislation can make a trust non-compliant. Regularly review and update the trust as needed.
  • Not Planning for Succession: A lack of clear plans for what happens after the grantor’s death can cause issues. Define how firearms will be handled by the heirs.
  • Not Storing Documents Securely: Failing to securely store trust documents can lead to legal problems. Keep them safe and let trustees know where they are.

FAQs About NFA Gun Trusts

Here are some questions that our clients have about gun trusts.

Is It Worth Having A Gun Trust?

Having a gun trust can be worth it for several reasons:

  • Ease of Sharing: A gun trust lets multiple trustees legally use and possess the firearms. This is useful for families or groups.
  • Smoother Inheritance: It can make passing firearms to heirs easier and more efficient, avoiding probate.
  • Legal Compliance: A well-drafted gun trust helps in staying compliant with federal and state gun laws.
  • Continued Ownership: The trust ensures that the firearms remain accessible to designated individuals even if the original owner passes away.
  • Privacy: Transferring firearms through a trust can offer more privacy compared to personal ownership.
  • Protection from Law Changes: A gun trust might offer some protection if gun laws change in the future.

However, setting up and managing a gun trust involves time and costs. 

It’s worth weighing these factors against the benefits based on your specific needs and situation.

Does The ATF Have To Approve A Gun Trust?

The ATF doesn’t have to approve the gun trust itself. 

But, if the trust acquires firearms regulated under the NFA, the ATF must approve those transactions. 

This involves:

  • submitting ATF forms
  • paying tax stamps
  • undergoing background checks for all responsible persons in the trust 

Once the ATF approves the transfer of NFA firearms to the trust, it sends a stamped copy of the form as proof. 

The trust itself is a legal document created under state law and doesn’t need ATF approval.

Can I Add Guns To A Gun Trust?

Yes, you can add guns to a gun trust. 

To do this, you need to transfer the ownership of the firearm to the trust. 

For regular firearms, this is often a simple process. 

For guns regulated by the NFA, like short-barreled rifles or suppressors, the process is more involved. 

To add regulated guns to a trust, you must:

  • submit the appropriate forms to the ATF
  • provide fingerprints and photographs
  • pay a transfer tax

Once the ATF approves the transfer, the gun becomes part of the trust. 

It’s essential to follow federal and state laws during this process to ensure legal compliance.

Can You Put Non-NFA Items In A Gun Trust?

Yes, you can put non-NFA items in a gun trust. 

While gun trusts are often used for NFA-regulated firearms, they can also hold regular firearms. 

Including non-NFA firearms in the trust allows multiple trustees to share possession. 

It also simplifies the transfer process to beneficiaries after the owner’s death. 

It’s crucial to make sure the trust follows all federal and state laws. 

This includes laws about owning and transferring firearms, both NFA-regulated and others.

How Much Does A Gun Trust Cost?

Hiring a gun trust attorney for a customized trust ranges from $500 to $1,000+. 

The complexity of the trust influences the price. For NFA firearms, add a $200 tax stamp per item. 

Additional fees might apply for notarization or amendments. 

Weigh the costs against the benefits of legal compliance and ease of management.

Hire A Gun Trust Attorney

If you want help from a gun trust law firm, fill out the form below. 

At The Hive Law, we understand the importance of:

  • protecting your firearms 
  • privacy of your gun ownership
  • ensuring the right people inherit your guns
  • transferring guns to the right heirs 

We only accommodate a limited number of clients each month.

So don’t miss your opportunity to work with our gun trust lawyers.

Talk soon.

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