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Ohio State University Extension


Gun Trusts

By:Robert Moore, Friday, June 09th, 2023

Legal Groundwork

You have probably heard of revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, and maybe even life insurance trusts but you may not be familiar with gun trusts.  This specialty trust is sometimes used to hold and pass along restricted firearms to heirs.  Gun trusts are only useful to a small number of people who own restricted firearms, but for those people, gun trusts can be a good solution to some of the challenges of owning restricted firearms.

Gun trusts typically hold firearms that are commonly known as NFA firearms, named after the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968.  Every NFA firearm has a serial number and must be registered with the ATF.  NFA firearms include:

  • Fully automatic firearms
  • Short barrel shotguns
  • Short barrel rifles
  • Sound suppressors

NFA firearm owners must pay a transfer tax to the ATF, file transfer paperwork, be fingerprinted and get permission from local law enforcement to have the firearms.  It is not a simple process to own NFA firearms.

Each NFA firearm may only have one owner and must be re-registered every time ownership transfers.  These ownership and registration requirements can be problematic when NFA firearms are involved in an estate.  An executor may innocently but illegally transfer an NFA firearm to an heir due to being unfamiliar with NFA rules and the registration process to transfer the firearms can be cumbersome for the executor.  Gun trusts can help alleviate these challenges.

A gun trust has two primary advantages.  First, the trust allows multiple people to use the NFA firearms.  Without a gun trust, only one person may own and possess an NFA firearm.  By placing the firearms in a gun trust, each trustee of the trust is entitled to possess the firearm.  So, by naming multiple trustees, the one-person, one-gun rule can be skirted.  It is common to set up a gun trust with perhaps father, mother and children all being trustees to allow them all to possess the NFA firearms.

The second advantage is the firearms are not required to be transferred when someone dies.  Once the NFA firearms are initially transferred to the gun trust, the trust can continue on after the deaths of the original trustees.  The gun trust does not terminate when a trustee dies.  Rather, the gun trust continues and is managed by the surviving or successor trustees.  The firearms can be passed down through generations without having to re-register the firearms each time an owner dies.

A gun trust is a special type of trust that should be drafted by an attorney familiar with the NFA and other firearm regulations.  Also, gun trusts are not needed for firearms that are not subject to the NFA; ordinary firearms can be transferred to heirs with no registration or paperwork.  For those gun owners who do have restricted firearms, a gun trust is worth exploring.