People with large gun collections or a
family tradition of guns may wish to consider a so-called “gun trust”. Let us examine the various reasons for the
First, the most often stated reason
for a gun trust is to comply with federal National Fire Arm (“NFA”) and state
law requirements regarding purchase, sale, use and ownership of guns generally, and Title II NFA restricted firearms particularly.
Federal NFA law requires that tax
stamps be obtained in order to transfer “Title II” weapons. An individual owner who transfers such
weapons must obtain the signature of a state law enforcement office but a
trust, however, does not. That said, as
California only limits a very few NFA weapons the Title II reason does not
apply to many California residents.
However, Californians who cross into other states, with more restrictive
laws, to buy and sell restricted guns may want a gun trust relative to other
Second, two broad reasons for a gun
trust in California are the following: (1) To provide helpful instructions
regarding the lawful purchase, sale and use of guns broadly; and (2) To keep
control and access to the gun collection separate from other assets which are
often part of one’s revocable living trust.
Penalties for violating the federal
and/or state gun laws are severe, including fines up to $250,000 and ten years
in prison. That is why special treatment
for problematic assets such as guns is justified. Gun Trusts give helpful instructions that
assist the successor trustee — who steps in on the incapacity or death of the
initial trustee (who established the gun trust) — from inadvertently violating
Limiting who has control and use of
the gun collection can avoid unintended consequences. Typically the surviving spouse is the
successor trustee of the revocable living trust which controls the house and
other assets. However, the surviving
spouse (or other successor trustee) perhaps may neither be qualified to control
the gun collection nor be the intended beneficiary of the guns.
A felony may result if the trustee of
a living trust falls into one of the following types of categories of persons
who are disqualified from owning guns: convicted felons, persons with a history of mental illness, persons convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, convicted users of illegal drugs, dishonorably discharged veterans, and persons who have renounced their U.S. citizenship. For this reason, it may be better to place such assets in a separate gun
trust where the trustee and beneficiaries are all qualified and intended users
of such assets.
Third, a gun trust can be used to hold
a gun collection for use by multiple beneficiaries for years to come. Consider a father who owns a lodge (or cabin)
and takes his children and/or grandchildren hunting. He may want to place his lodge and guns into a
single trust for his descendants’ common use.
The trust would own and control the use of the lodge and the guns for
the common benefit of these descendants
Lastly, gun trusts can further a
family tradition of proper gun use. Gun
trusts can be funded with money (such as from life insurance proceeds) to pay
for gun instruction classes and/or membership in “gun and rod” clubs for the