Close-up view of shooter practice handgun shooting in row group.

The Benefits of a Firearms Trust (NFA Trust)

Law Office of Robert L. Firth  Dec. 29, 2022

A gun trust is a special type of legal document that helps you possess and transfer certain firearms. It can also help you and your family members avoid potential violations of federal and state law. If you possess firearms and want to make them part of your estate plan, it is important to understand how gun trusts work as well as the benefits they offer. 

At the Law Office of Robert L. Firth, we assist clients with setting up all types of trusts, including firearms or gun trusts. With more than 35 years of experience in estate planning, our attorney provides compassionate and personalized legal services to clients in Cathedral City, California, and throughout the Coachella Valley.  

Firearms That Can Be Held in Trust  

Gun trusts are designed to help firearm owners obtain and possess NFA firearms, which are regulated by both federal law (the National Firearms Act of 1934) and state law.  

Firearms that can be held in a gun trust include firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) as well as state law:  

  • Machine guns (any weapon that fires more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger) 

  • Silencers (also known as suppressors) 

  • Short-barreled rifles and shotguns (defined as having a barrel length of less than 16 inches or 18 inches in some states) 

A gun trust may be used for the transfer of NFA firearms (machine guns, short-barreled rifles, silencers, etc.) by those who have been issued an approved Form 1 or 4 by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Only the registered owner may possess and use the transferred firearm. 

The Benefits of a Firearms Trust  

There are several benefits to using a gun trust, including:  

  1. Avoiding probate. While the use of a gun trust is not technically necessary, it can help you avoid probate and its associated costs, delays, and hassles. Probate is the legal process that transfers an estate’s assets to the beneficiaries named in the will or trust.  

  1. Avoiding confusion. Firearms are regulated under federal and state law, not just California law alone. For this reason, it’s critical that everyone who handles them understands what laws apply at all times to stay out of trouble with authorities for violating those laws. Having proper documentation will make it easier for everyone involved in managing your collection of firearms as well as anyone interested in buying from/selling items from this collection. 

  1. Avoiding potential violations of federal/state law. For example, a firearm that is registered to the individual in their name may not be lawfully possessed by another person who is not named on the registration form. This could result in costly fines or imprisonment for someone who is not authorized to possess such a firearm due to their lack of registration or license pursuant to state law. 

There are several reasons why a gun trust may be beneficial to you, depending on your situation. Consider speaking with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to discuss the benefits of a firearms trust (NFA trust) in your specific case.  

How a Gun Trust Differs From a Living Trust 

A gun trust is different from a living trust because the former can be used in California to own NFA firearms, while living trusts typically cannot. 

A living trust is something that you would create if you wanted to leave your assets in your will but did not want them subject to probate after your death. This is important because when someone dies and their estate passes through the court system, it takes much longer than just having an executor handle the transfer of assets according to whatever instructions are written in their will. 

As someone who has drafted more than 1,500 living trust arrangements for his clients, Robert Firth understands how a gun trust differs from a living trust. Nonetheless, a gun trust could be a valuable addition to your comprehensive estate plan if you possess firearms.  

Get Legal Assistance With a Firearms Trust

The benefits of a gun trust are numerous. If you are considering setting up a gun trust for the purpose of transferring firearms to heirs, you may need legal assistance from an attorney. The estate planning attorney at the Law Office of Robert L. Firth can assist with drafting the trust documents and helping you understand the benefits and risks involved. Request a free consultation today by contacting our Cathedral City, California, office.