How to Safely Transfer Guns After Death

Many Americans have collectables – coins, cars, antiques, and weapons. The larger the collection, the bigger problems you may have passing it on to a loved one when you pass away. Guns in particular have special rules and regulations that you should be aware of if you have a rather large collection of them. Transferring guns can be a lengthy, expensive, and even illegal process if you don’t fully understand the law.

NFA Firearms

NFA stands for the National Firearms Act. NFA Firearms are special guns and gun parts that are much more heavily regulated than normal guns. For example, short barrel rifles and shotguns, and a variety of explosives are considered NFA Firearms. If you have highly-valued and highly-regulated NFA Firearms in your collection, you may need to consider putting them in a gun trust.

Gun Control in America

To give some background on The National Firearms Act, it was passed in 1934 as a result of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and the attempted assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Congress knew they couldn’t make guns illegal, so they chose to discourage ownership of certain guns by enacting a tax on them. They chose to tax fully automatic weapons, suppressors, short barrel rifles and shotguns, as well as a catch-all category called AOW, Any Other Weapons. AOW weapons include novelty guns such as pen guns and umbrella guns. It was a tax of $200 per product, equating to about a month’s salary for a well-off person in 1934. That $200 tax is still in place today and has never been adjusted for inflation.

One thing that has changed in the NFA is the Hughes Amendment, passed in 1986. It outlawed the manufacturing and registering of machine guns for the average citizen. So, machine guns must be registered prior to 1986. These guns are now highly valuable.

If you plan on passing a machine gun you own onto a family member when you pass away, you need to make sure you do this safely by consulting an experienced attorney.

Gun Trusts

A gun trust is a generic term that can take different forms depending on a client’s needs. When most people refer to a gun trust, they are referring to an NFA trust.

Gun trusts have gained popularity because of the way U.S. law is written. Historically speaking, if an individual wanted to register an NFA gun in their name, there were some additional hoops to jump through that you didn’t have to deal with with a trust. This includes a background check and CLEO (Chief Law Enforcement Officer) Certification.

Now, some changes were made to the law under the Obama Administration. All trustees need to be fingerprinted, but you do not have to get CLEO certification.

Gun trusts generally have two main benefits today: keeping your guns out of probate when you pass away, and keeping you guns accessible to loved ones while you’re still living.

The Consequences

It may seem uncomplicated to you to register an NFA Firearm in your name today, but it will be extremely complicated for your family when you pass away. These NFA guns will have to be transferred through the Probate Court, a very expensive and public process. If you don’t have a gun-experienced attorney on your side throughout this process, mistakes can easily be made, and you may be committing a felony without even realizing it. You also will have to deal with the ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) throughout this process, completely separate from the probate court. This will lead to long billable hours with your attorney.

Gun trusts can also work for your benefit while you’re still living. Your loved ones that you make trustees will be allowed to use your guns. Without a gun trust, if your family member is caught with one of your guns, and it’s not registered in their name, they could face time in prison.


If you need help navigating complex gun law, you can find more information on our podcast, Your Financial Advocate. If you think you might need a gun trust, please reach out to expert attorney Derek DeBrosse on his website munitionsgroup.com.


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