By: Tyler Hillis

With nearly 400 million gun owners in the United States, more and more gun owners are utilizing gun trusts to protect themselves and their loved ones while transferring and enjoying their prized possessions.

Guns are oftentimes passed down through generations. They can hold stories and help memorialize their previous owners. Whether you just want to protect your grandpa’s rifle, ensure your firearms can be passed onto future generations, or even set up a way to make sure your prized collection is liquidated properly, gun trusts are an important aspect of gun ownership.

What Is A Gun Trust?

A gun or firearm trust helps ensure the legal transfer of firearms, especially upon death or incapacitation. A gun or firearm trust will ensure the firearms can stay in the ownership of family or other designated loved ones once a gun owner passes away or becomes incapacitated. Additionally, while class 3 firearm owners without gun trusts are the only individuals allowed to possess or use their firearms, gun owners who possess a class 3 firearm license can designate family or friends without a class 3 firearm license within a trust to possess, store, and/or utilize weapons legally without having to face felony gun charges. Firearm trusts can also include firearm attachments and accessories, along with any other legally-owned weapons.

What You Need To Know Before Setting Up a Gun Trust

Setting up a gun trust and the terminology surrounding gun trusts can be confusing, so here are some terms to familiarize yourself with that will help you understand gun trusts and the process of organizing one:

The individual who sets up the trust, usually the gun owner, is called a ‘guarantor.’ This individual can designate others to possess and utilize their firearms, and will outline their wishes within the trust regarding who their firearms will be passed down to in case of death or incapacitation.

A ‘trustee’ is an individual designated by the trust creator. A trustee oversees the distribution of the firearms and ensures the transfer is done adhering to the wishes that the original gun owner laid out in the trust.

A beneficiary, or heir, is the person who will be receiving the firearm(s), according to the original gun owner’s wishes. Oftentimes, a designated trustee will also be a beneficiary. Some people choose a trust company or corporate trustee to handle trusts and distribute assets among beneficiaries. Both beneficiaries and trustees designated within a gun trust must be legally able to own firearms.

Depending on local laws, firearm trustees and beneficiaries may need to go through a background check before taking possession of the firearms. Getting professional legal help is important while setting up a gun trust. Oftentimes, self-made gun trusts are set up by well-meaning firearm owners. When a gun trust is set up incorrectly, the recipient of the firearms may face felony charges without the recipient even knowing.

Types Of Firearm Trusts

A gun trust is a generalized term for a revocable or irrevocable that’s designed to be set up to hold and/or transfer the titles of firearms. Knowing the difference between the two is important before setting up a trust.

Revocable – A revocable gun trust is the most commonly used option. With a revocable trust, the trust can be revoked or modified by the gun owner during their lifetime, and the gun owner will appoint a successor trustee and beneficiaries for when they pass. This gives the gun owner the ability to remove or add individuals to the gun trust, and modify terms while they are still alive. Be aware, if a gun owner with a revocable trust has provable debts, creditors can go through certain legal proceedings to collect debt using the firearms involved in the trust.

Irrevocable – For some gun owners, an irrevocable trust may be the best option. Irrevocable trusts can be set up to permanently transfer firearms to their heirs and cannot be modified or dissolved once established. An irrevocable trust also protects firearms from creditors who want to collect on debts owed. It is important to note that a court can undo your transfer and impose significant legal penalties if it finds that the trust was established to defraud creditors.

Other Benefits To Having A Gun Trust

The main benefits of a firearm trust include being able to protect and transfer firearms legally before or upon death, along with the ability to designate more than one individual to use and possess firearms within the trust. In addition to these, there are other important benefits that gun owners should know about.

Privacy – Without a gun trust, even with a generalized trust in place, the estate, including all firearms, will be publicly listed once a gun owner passes. Letting the public know what guns their beneficiary has inherited and has possession of can create dangers for the person who takes ownership of them. With a firearm trust, this allows the gun trust to be private, ensuring the public does not have knowledge of the firearms in the new owner’s possession.

Gun Laws – With gun laws constantly evolving and changing, firearm trusts can help ensure guns are protected and can legally be possessed by beneficiaries. Without a gun trust, some firearms may need to be handed over to law enforcement, or be legally disposed of or liquidated. When you transfer a class 2 firearm without a trust, you are required to get approval from your local chief law enforcement officer (CLEO). With a trust, class 2 firearms only need to be submitted and approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Timeliness – Obtaining a gun trust is the quickest and most effective way to transfer firearms. Without a gun trust, transferring gun ownership can be a lengthy process and can lead to unintentional National Firearms Act violations, which can present costly fines and charges, or even jail time for well-meaning gun owners or beneficiaries.