Meurer Law Offices, Denver, Colorado
Gun owners have heard a lot about Gun Trusts lately. These are trusts specifically designed to hold firearms and generally used for firearms that are subject to strict federal and state gun laws. Gun Trusts make it easier to purchase, possess, handle and transfer firearms and may help gun owners avoid inadvertently violating firearms laws and incurring severe penalties.
Do I Need a Gun Trust?
Gun Trusts are most commonly used for weapons regulated by the two main federal gun laws: the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and a revision of that law, Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). These weapons are referred to as NFA or Title II firearms. NFA weapons include machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns (including sawed-off shotguns). They also include grenades and other destructive devices.
NFA weapons must (1) have a serial number and (2) be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). NFA weapons may only be possessed and used by (1) the registered owner or (2) persons in the direct eyesight of the registered owner. This creates a scenario in which the owner of an NFA firearm and the non-owner user could accidentally commit a federal gun crime if the NFA gun owner were to simply go to the restroom while the non-owner used his weapon at a firing range. Both would be committing a crime. This crime is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 and not more than 10 years in prison.
In Colorado, there are further restrictions on transferring firearms without a background check being conducted by the transferor. Gun Trusts can help Colorado gun owners by providing a structure with multiple trustees and beneficiaries should a trustee/beneficiary die or become legally incapable of possessing the weapons owned by the trust.
A gun trust alleviates some of the federal transfer requirements, educates Colorado users as to background check requirements, and accomplishes other goals as well:
- They allow multiple persons to legally possess and use the firearms held in the trust. If you name more than one person as living beneficiary or trustee, they can have the right to possess or use the gun trust’s firearms. Otherwise, only the registered owner can possess or use NFA firearms or only allow others within the owner’s direct eyesight to use the NFA firearm.
- Avoids the onerous paperwork requirements usually associated with NFA gun purchases. Under current law (which is currently under review by the ATF), Gun Trusts do not have to follow the usual requirements that an individual NFA gun buyer must follow: (1) obtain a signature from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) of their respective county of residence, (2) submit fingerprints, and (3) submit a photograph when purchasing an NFA weapon. Gun Trusts do not currently have this requirement. There is a proposed new rule that may require trustees to comply.
- Helps innocent family members comply with the law. Well-drafted Gun Trusts will include additional documentation to aid the successor trustee in complying with the numerous regulations associated with NFA gun ownership. Without such a trust, your firearms may be passed through a simple will (or even worse, the NFA gun owner may leave no will) where the executor of your estate (the person who is responsible for gathering your assets, paying your debts, and distributing what’s left) may not be familiar with the rules about ownership and possession of NFA and other weapons. That person could violate criminal laws by transferring a weapon without going through the proper procedures, taking or sending it to a state where it is prohibited, or giving it to a person who is legally prohibited from owning the firearm. An executor that drops an NFA gun off at the local gun shop to sell or forfeits the gun to the local sheriff just committed a crime.
- Keep your property private and avoid probate. Because the firearms are held by a trust, they do not need to go through probate at your death. If you do not have your firearms in a Gun Trust, they will go through probate. Probate is the legal process whereby the assets of a deceased person are transferred to their heirs. Probate in Colorado is a public proceeding which takes on average 18 months to complete. If you do not provide a proper legal framework for the transfer of these weapons, loved ones may be involved in a public legal proceeding involving courts and lawyers.
- Beware of bad Gun Trusts. The Meurer Law Offices in Denver has reviewed several Gun Trusts from allegedly reputable sources, which turned out to be poorly drafted simple Revocable Trusts. Gun Trusts differ from simple revocable trusts in many respects, and the estate planning attorney who you employ to draft one for you should be familiar with the differences. We invite you to ask your estate planning attorney how the two differ, and if they cannot quickly answer, you should take advantage of a no-cost, no obligation consultation with our firm.
Call or contact our offices today to schedule your free consultation: 303-991-3544