We own about 233 MILLION guns in these United States. We put a lot of stock in them, and at the Monroe Gun Show today I spoke to several firearms owners like me who own some of them.
Do estate planning attorneys or survivors treat them any different than stock certificates?
My first point is about responsibility. Did you ever consider that guns are dangerous even when not loaded? The issue is the transfer of a gun, and that word is defined in a very squishy way under federal law… to include a loan, a sale, a gift, and lots of other things.
Let’s expand the definition of “gun” to include “firearm”… so that it is clear that we are emphasizing silencers (suppressors), AOWs, DDs, and the big three that you cannot own in Washington: machine guns, short barreled rifles and short barreled shotguns.
Each jurisdiction has laws about firearms and the regulated federal items can only be owned in states that permit them. Then too, some people are prohibited from owning them even if others can own them. Some states require pistols to be registered to own.
Let’s say that everything is hunky dory… and the lawful owner dies and the firearm is to be transferred to someone. It may be a bequest, it may be sold, or it may be “turned in” to the authorities to be destroyed. It may be kept by a family member by agreement… and shared with other family members.
Each of these actions is a transfer. Do a transfer the wrong way and it is likely a felony under state and/or federal law. Transfer to the wrong person (i.e. a prohibited person), or do it without the right paperwork (ex. would be to transfer a silencer without BATFE permission in advance), possess a firearm in a new state… that precludes owning that firearm (machine gun in Washington, an AR-15 in Connecticut (where it is likely an “assault weapon”) and somebody gets a gift of a felony.
Anyone probating an estate, or administering a trust where firearms are involved needs to act carefully and thoughtfully. Here is a checklist:
1. Inventory all firearms by serial number, model, and attribute (automatic weapon? registered in state? registered federally?)
2. See if legally possessed in current state. If not, determine what State or Federal law requires.
3. Identify person to receive firearm via Will or Trust.
a. Does their state permit the firearm to be possessed there?
b. Is the person acceptable or is he/she a prohibited person?
4. Prior to transfer, is there a required State or Federal process to do FIRST?
Think about it. Setting things up the wrong way is like a gift of an accidental felony! Give your family and friends a break and put a plan in place to guide them through the disposition of your treasured firearms collection.