Just What is a Gun Trust (and Why You Might Want One)

Last Updated on June 8, 2024.

You may have heard other gun owners discuss setting up a gun trust for their collection. Do you know what exactly it is or how it works?

Whether you own an extensive collection of rare and unusual firearms or simply want to ensure your children or family members inherit your guns without potentially breaking the law, a gun trust can help make the process easier.

Here’s everything you need to know. That way you don’t have to ask when you hear other people talking about gun trusts.

How Gun Trusts Work

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you may be asking yourself, “What is a gun trust?

Gun trusts are a type of asset management trust with a specific focus on firearms and firearm legislation in the United States. It is a legal entity whose primary purpose is to hold legal ownership of any firearms assigned to it

Although you can add any legally-owned firearm to a gun trust, they are especially beneficial to ensure the legal transfer of items regulated under strict federal laws.

There are two types of gun trusts: revocable and irrevocable. The main difference between the two types is whether the settlor (the person setting up the trust) can make any changes after creating the trust.

Revocable gun trusts are much more popular because they allow the settlor to add or remove any firearmstrustees (people who can manage the trust), or beneficiaries (people who can use the guns in the trust) at any point during their lifetime.

What You Can Use Gun Trusts For

You may know what a gun trust is. But you may be wondering, “What is a gun trust good for?” The short answer is that gun trusts are a powerful legal tool with many valuable benefits and purposes.

Holding NFA items

Although gun trusts can hold any legally-owned firearm, most gun trusts are designed for holding NFA items, which are weapons and accessories regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the Gun Control Act (GCA)

NFA items include the following categories: Short-Barreled Rifles (SBR), Short-Barreled Shotguns (SBS), machine guns, Destructive Devices (DD), silencers, and Any Other Weapons (AOW). 

According to federal law, NFA items require registration to a single owner. Only the owner of an NFA item is legally allowed to use and possess them; they cannot be transferred or lent to anyone else, even for a brief period.

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In other words: Yes, it is illegal to let your friends or family members try out your NFA items, even if it’s just for a few rounds! It is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

As a legal entity, a gun trust can be the legal owner of these items. The main benefit of a gun trust is that any person named as a trustee can legally use and possess the weapons (NFA or otherwise) listed on the trust. In other words, they are an excellent tool for allowing multiple people to use NFA items legally.

Manage firearms after death

Another common benefit of gun trusts is their usefulness as inheritance management tools. You can set your gun trust to remain in existence even after you pass away, granting any rights and stipulations you wish to the trustees and beneficiaries regarding the guns listed in the trust.

Legally speaking, the guns remain owned by the trust as a legal entity even after your death, saving your beneficiaries and trustees from having to follow transfer procedures, paying tax stamps, file ATF paperwork, or go through probate.

Because it falls on the trustees to manage the firearms in the trust after your death, it can help make your executor’s job easier, especially if they are not familiar with state and federal gun laws.

What Trusts Cannot Do

Despite their many benefits, you cannot use a gun trust to bypass state or federal laws

  • You may not add prohibited persons to a gun trust.
  • If a listed trustee or beneficiary is under the legal age to own a firearm (18 for NFA items, varies by state for non-NFA weapons), they may not possess the guns on your trust until they reach the legal age. Consider consulting a qualified attorney for specific details.
  • A gun trust does not eliminate the requirement to file all appropriate paperwork for NFA item ownership (e.g., tax stamps, registration, etc.)
  • Trustees and beneficiaries may not possess items banned in their state of residence (e.g., silencers in California).
  • You may not transport NFA items (except silencers and AOWs) across state lines, even if listed on the trust, without first notifying the ATF months in advance.

See Related Article: Are Silencers Legal in Your State?

How to Set Up a Gun Trust

Although many online services today offer to sell you turnkey services to create and set up your trust for you, you should avoid using them. There is no guarantee that the people behind an online service are even familiar with the law, and you run the risk of breaking the law.

The best and safest way to set up a gun trust is to contact an attorney specializing in gun trusts, estate planning, or firearms legislation.

Avoid lawyers trying to convince you that you can simply use a generic trust for your guns or that you should only set up NFA items in your gun trust; this is not true, and it demonstrates they did not specialize in these fields.

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Although this solution can be relatively expensive, your attorney will ask questionsget to know you better, and offer a personalized solution for your specific needs and requirements. They can also give you legal counsel and support to help make sense of the often complex and confusing web of laws and regulations surrounding firearms and trusts.

If your meeting with a specialized attorney has gone well, you should walk out with the following documents:

  • Declaration of Trust
  • The trust’s complete documentation
  • Schedule A or equivalent form listing the items in the trust

When in Doubt With the Law, Consult an Attorney

On its own, firearm legislation is complex and often difficult to understand fully. Setting up a gun trust, especially if it includes federally-regulated weapons such as NFA items, requires additional knowledge of state and federal gun laws and familiarity with asset management regulations.

Even if you are intimately familiar with the law or are a law professional f, you should always consult a knowledgeable attorney if you’re considering a gun trust.

Not only can they help you set up your trust. But they also offer you valuable legal counseling if you need to deal with law enforcement or the courts.

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