Gun Trusts: A Gun Owner’s Legal Gun Safe

When I first began drafting gun trusts for my clients, I was met with many raised eyebrows from my estate planning colleagues.  Their reaction didn’t particularly surprise me.   After all, it was poor planning by do-it-yourselfers or unknowledgeable attorneys that created the firearms related estate problems I have had to solve for my clients.  I, as a former criminal prosecutor, am aware of state and federal gun laws and what behavior constitutes criminal conduct.  While working on estate matters for clients who had plans drafted by attorneys without this gun law background, I have come across situations where innocent people unknowingly violate gun laws and commit what I call an “accidental felony”.

Consider, for example, a generic Will where a father leaves his entire firearms collection to a beloved son.  Suppose that son has been convicted of a domestic violence offense by the time his father dies.   The Will names the father’s other child, his responsible, hard-working daughter, as the personal representative (also known as an executrix).  Like many children, she and her brother meet at dad’s home to divide his personal belongings.  During that process, she gives all of the guns to her brother, and he drives them across the country to his home in another state.  The daughter, and many attorneys, would not have a clue that the daughter and her brother have just committed numerous felonies.   Even worse, many gun laws don’t require that the violator have knowledge of the criminal law violation:  both the son AND the daughter in this case could be convicted of a federal crime and imprisoned.  The poorly drafted will in this situation left no alternative gift to the son, did not name an alternate beneficiary to receive the guns, and did not in any way address the laws pertaining to the possession or transfer of the firearms.

If these guns had been held in a Gundocx™ Gun Trust (the trusts drafted by 3G Law Offices, P.C. and the Northwest Gun Law Group) the situation would have been more likely avoided:  the trust would have in black and white prohibited the transfer to the son and alerted any attorney and the personal representative to this fact.  In other words, the criminal behavior could have been completed avoided by the properly drafted gun trust.  There would have been no question that the son could not receive the firearms, nor would he receive any additional assets in their place.   The trust would have directed that the guns go to the father’s alternate beneficiary.

Many clients contact me because they have read that gun trusts are useful tools to obtain and hold firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA).  These firearms are also called “Class 3” by many gun dealers and “Title II” by those in the legal field.  Sharing possession of NFA firearms through a gun trust is a wonderful benefit of a properly drafted gun trust.  However, our gun trusts are designed to provide this benefit and even more:  they are a legal gun safe that will alert unknowledgeable citizens and attorneys to the restrictions on the transfer and possession of firearms, they outline a plan for the gun owner’s death and also for the gun owner’s incapacity, and they create a dynasty trust for the gun owner’s children.

It isn’t always easy to be on the cutting edge by offering new ideas and “thinking outside the box”.   When I am met with criticism or skepticism because I am doing something different than it’s been done before, I remind myself that progress cannot be achieved by repeating the past.   And I am noticing a new trend:  more and more attorneys are advertising “gun trusts” as part of their practices.  They are adding these trusts to their practices, because their clients are requesting them, and because they realize that gun trusts are an exceptional tool in an estate planner’s arsenal of options.

Before picking a gun trust attorney, clients should question their potential gun trust attorney on that attorney’s prior experience with gun laws:   1)  Where did they learn about the gun laws?  2) Do they have any gun-related criminal law background?  3) Have they written any articles about gun laws?  4) What estate or business gun-law related issues have they resolved for their former clients?

If your estate or business involves firearms, make sure your attorney is well-versed in both state and federal gun laws.  After all, there are over 20,000 gun laws on the books, and without some prior experience, you should question the attorney’s ability to protect you.  Remember, each attorney’s particular knowledge and experience that they can offer to their clients is different, and not all gun trusts are created equal.