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Creating A Firearm Trust as An Estate Planning Strategy

If you are a rancher or a farmer, then you probably own a firearm. If you own one firearm, then it’s also likely that you own several firearms.  Firearms are fascinating.  Once you learn how to shoot and how to hunt, then it’s a short path to acquiring several of them.  Whether you own one or many firearms – one thing is certain – your firearms will outlive you.  When that time comes your firearms will need to be properly and legally dealt with. Creating a customized Firearm Trust now is one way that you can help to avoid problems occurring later on so that your loved ones and your Estate are not faced with dilemmas that you could have prevented. 

Like dogs, where each dog is unique – even among the same breed – each firearm – even among the same manufacturer and caliber – is unique to its firearm owner.  How it handles, its kick, its accuracy, its reliability, its history, are all unique to you.  So it’s not too hard to eventually wind up with a collection of firearms, even though you might not consider yourself a firearm collector.  But your firearms – as enjoyable as they are to you now – might prove to be troublesome down the road when you are not there to continue to manage them properly.

Firearms are like cars and trucks.  Governments want cars and trucks – and firearms – to be registered and only used by someone who is licensed and responsible for them.  There’s the rub.  Even if you do everything right and legal and even if you have each of your firearms registered and you are properly licensed, what happens if something happens to you?  What happens when you pass?  What if you become incapacitated?  What happens then with respect to your firearms? 

Your first thought might be that your firearms will just be handed over naturally to someone in your family – your spouse, your child or your children – or to your friends.  But what if they don’t want them?  Or what if they are not qualified – under some law or regulation – to be licensed to own one or more of them?  Or what if they live in a different jurisdiction that doesn’t allow firearms at all? 

Your next thought might be that your Will can provide a solution, either generally under a personal property provision, or by a specific bequest.  But neither of those choices – by just letting things happen as they might naturally or by using a Will – is a satisfactory solution to meeting all of the requirements of having firearms: registering, owning, licensing, and accepting legal responsibility, for each of your firearms.

There is a third choice available to you, and that’s by using a very common estate planning tool – a revocable or living trust – and by having a lawyer create a revocable customized Firearm Trust for you. 

What is a revocable or a living trust?  A Trust is a legal entity created under the laws of a particular state that takes affect when it is signed – or executed – and that has three named participants: someone who creates the Trust (the Grantor), someone who manages the Trust (the Trustee), and someone who benefits from the Trust (the Beneficiary).  In many states one person can be all three participants.  A living trust means that the Grantor can modify the terms of the Trust – or revoke the Trust entirely – during the Grantor’s lifetime.  At the death of the Grantor, the terms of a living trust then become permanent and the trust continues to exist and it becomes irrevocable. 

A Trust can be created for many reasons or for only one reason.  If a trust is created for one reason – or is concerned with just one specific issue – it is sometimes referred to as a special interest trust.  One such special interest living trust that a firearm owner could have their lawyer create, for example, is a Firearm Trust.  The terms of that Firearm Trust could spell out how that firearm owner (the Grantor) wants their firearms dealt with during the life of that firearm owner/Grantor and after their passing.  It could also detail what should happen if that firearm owner/Grantor should become incapacitated.

Trusts, regardless of their type, are usually carefully drafted by an estate planning lawyer.  In my own anecdotal experience, many estate planning lawyers do not have the knowledge of the federal, state, and local firearm laws to create a customized living Firearm Trust.  In addition, the drafter of a Firearm Trust should also know something about the types of firearms in the firearm owner/Grantor’s collection because different laws and regulations apply to different firearms.  The customized living Firearm Trust needs to be created specifically for that firearm owner – and for that firearm owner’s unique firearm collection – and ideally by a lawyer familiar with firearm trusts and with the governing laws pertaining to that firearm owner’s specific firearm collection. 

The landowner may want to turn to their Private Wealth Advisor – not to draft the firearm trust, the lawyer will do that – but to assist the landowner in finding a lawyer skilled in drafting customized firearm trusts and to help collect the information that that lawyer will need. 

Some of the questions the landowner and their Private Wealth Advisor might want to discuss before bringing in that skilled estate planning lawyer might include:

  1. Is there a current inventory of the landowner’s firearms?
  2. Is there a current appraisal of the firearm collection?  (This might also be needed for insurance.)
  3. Does the landowner desire privacy for the knowledge of even the existence of their firearm collection and do they desire to avoid probate?
  4. Does the landowner have capable and willing relatives or friends who would accept being named as a Trustee or as a Successor Trustee if the landowner were the original Trustee?
  5. Are firearms dealt with at all in the landowner’s current estate planning documents?
  6. Does the landowner have firearms in multiple jurisdictions?
  7. Are all appropriate registrations and licenses current?
  8. Are there firearms that are antiques, spoils of war, handed down from prior generations, or non-operable, that the landowner believes might be exceptions to the normal registration and licensing requirements?
  9. What would the landowner like to have happen concerning their firearms both during their life and after their passing?
  10. Does the landowner have any interest in considering gifting or donating some or all of their firearms to a charitable entity – like the Marine Corps, Army, or National Firearms Museums, the NRA Foundation – or to another charitable organization to generate income for that charitable organization by the sale of their firearms?

Almost all ranchers and farmers handle, manage, register, and license their firearms and themselves appropriately during their lifetimes. Their firearm collections usually – but not always – represent a modest part of each of their estates.  But their firearms can cause disproportionate problems for their families and for their estates if they are not addressed properly beforehand.  Living Firearm Trusts are one way that landowners can help protect their loved ones, their estates, and their firearms from running afoul of firearm laws and regulations if that Firearm Trust is properly and carefully drafted by an experienced and competent lawyer. 

The landowner’s Private Wealth Advisor may be useful in the process of finding such a lawyer and in assisting the landowner in working with that lawyer to create the most appropriate and customized living Firearm Trust for that particular landowner and their unique firearm collection.

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