We often receive inquiries from families who are distributing a deceased relative’s firearms collection. There is a great deal of focus and information on the proper transfer of an NFA item which has a tendency to overshadow the proper transfer of non-NFA items. As a result, there is not much information to help guide people through the distribution process regarding regular firearms. Obviously, it is essential that all transfer laws are followed for non-NFA firearms or serious legal problems can arise.
First, the trustee or personal representative must ensure that the end recipient is of the proper age and not a prohibited person as defined in both federal and state law. There is a long list of offenses that would cause a person to be prohibited under federal and state law from owning a firearm. There are third party vendors that provide a background check service for a fee that may help protect the trustee or personal representative from liability.
Second, the non-NFA firearms must be legal to own in the beneficiary’s home state. Some states are extremely restrictive on what types of firearms a person can own and the process that must be complied with in order to own them. Also, some states have registration requirements that must be satisfied within a given timeframe (usually about 30 days).
Third, actually getting the firearms to the beneficiary can cause issues. If you are going to send any firearm in the mail, a federally licensed dealer must be the recipient. They will then transfer the firearm to the end beneficiary. Usually a dealer will charge a fee of about $25-$50 per firearm transfer. If a dealer is involved, the trustee or personal representative need not worry about whether the beneficiary is a prohibited person because the dealer will run the necessary background checks prior to releasing the firearm to the beneficiary.
Some people do not want to involve dealers based on privacy concerns. In that case, a trustee or personal representative can release firearms to a beneficiary (assuming they are not a prohibited person) if the beneficiary comes to pick them up. If the mail or UPS/FedEx is involved, you must involve a federally licensed dealer.
There are lots of issues that arise in the distribution of a firearms collection. It can create liability on the part of the decedent’s trustee or personal representative and generally the penalties for misconduct result in a felony. If you have any questions about the process, it is highly advisable to consult an attorney well versed in firearms related law.