Inheriting and Bequeathing Firearms in California

by | Aug 29, 2022 | legacy planning


When it comes to firearm ownership, inheritance can get complicated. Even though you have your trust written out, certain laws govern what types of guns you can own and what individuals can inherit your guns. These guidelines surrounding firearm transfers can get confusing, especially from a legal standpoint, but there are ways to ensure that you follow exactly what is required of you. 

What Happens When The Owner of a Firearm Dies? 

When you are a firearm owner, you will want to make sure that your firearms are taken care of after your death. The laws surrounding gun ownership in California are very strict. But, gun regulations can also vary widely across the entire state. Local rules may also apply, depending on where the owner of the gun resides. When you die, it will be up to how you set up your estate on whether or not your guns go where you intend.  

Trust & Estate Administrator Responsibilities

If you have found that there are firearms that are involved in an estate plan of someone who has passed, then there are certain steps that you will want to do. 

Examine Planning Documents

Go through all the documents associated with the deceased individual, ensuring that you check documents that are specifically related to firearm ownership. This might include receipts and registrations. You will also want to determine if any specific beneficiaries have been named and get into contact with them. 

Determine Gun Trust Status

Did the deceased person set up a gun trust? This is something that you will want to determine right away. A gun trust may be revocable or irrevocable. The grantor has the ability to put any owned firearm into the gun trust. However, it is typically used for weapons under Title II of the NFA, or National Firearms Act. A gun trust helps to promote the smooth process of transferring weapons after a death, as this helps to ensure that the trust or estate administrator acts in compliance with gun laws. 

State and Federal Law for Firearms

State and federal laws both govern firearm transactions. The trust or estate administrator has the responsibility to act in accordance with all gun laws. This includes at every step of the transfer process. Without a gun trust, this could open up the administrator to accidentally making a mistake. If the administrator allows the transfer to occur, but has broken a law, they have the potential to be prosecuted. 

Government Approval and Transfer of Firearm Ownership

Weapons that are transferred that are being governed by the NFA will need to also be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaccos, Firearms, and Explosives. Depending on your situation, different laws may be governing the transfer. When inheriting firearms in California, you will need to register the transfer or properly dispose of the weapons. A dedicated estate planning attorney can help you better understand which laws and guidelines apply to you. 

NFA Transfer Tax

The NFA, or National Firearms Act, determines how individuals purchase, use and own certain weapons. All NFA weapons will need to have a tax imposed on them in order for them to be transferred. However, that is not the only requirement needed in order for the transfer to be completed. The estate planning documents may detail how the deceased person would like their firearms distributed out to their beneficiaries. If this is the case, you will need to get into touch with them and they will also need the signature of a Chief Law Enforcement Officer. But, these signatures have been known to be difficult to obtain. You may not need to submit a transfer tax or get a signature in some instances, including if there is ownership of a Title II weapon and it is in the possession of a trustee with a California Gun Trust. Gun Trusts are also known as NFA Trusts and they are designed to help with the possession, ownership, and transfer of NFA weapons. This is specifically true for during the life and upon the death of the person that has the Title II weapon in their possession. 

estate planning consultation

Compliance with Federal Law

You will always want to consult your local, state, and federal laws regarding gun ownership before you make any decisions when it comes to possession and transfer. These laws could coincide or contradict with each other, as well as could differ when it comes to sales and transfers. Unlawful possession of a NFA firearm is taken seriously and may be strictly enforced including, but not limited to, up to ten years in prison and a hefty $250,000 fine.   

How to Get a California Gun Trust

A California Gun Trust can ensure that you are in compliance with the laws governing gun ownership and transfer. It is professionally recommended to not attempt to establish a gun trust on your own. Any mistakes that occur on your gun trust would cause you to be penalized. 

Benefits of a California Gun Trust

There are some benefits to including a gun trust as part of your estate planning process. These include:

  • Avoid Transfer Requirements. Inheritors of firearms that have been passed down may be able to avoid transfer taxes, requirements, and forms. The firearms will be within the owner’s trust. After their death, the firearms will be granted under the trust’s terms. 
  • Assists The Executor. After the owner’s death, the executor will have much to go through while handling the estate. They may not be familiar with all the laws governing gun ownership. A gun trust can help the executor with the process, as well as help them to avoid making mistakes that could lead to legal trouble. 
  • Avoid Probate. Firearms that are within a trust are not subject to probate. However, if firearms are not within an owner’s trust at the time of death, then those firearms may need to go through the probate process. This process can be costly and could be time-consuming. 

Speaking with a Professional California Estate Planning Attorney

Navigating through the local, state, and federal laws surrounding firearm ownership and transfer can be overwhelming. One misstep and you could be faced with life-changing consequences. At Galanti & Copenhaver, our dedicated team of professional California estate planning attorneys understand the complexities surrounding weapon transfers. 

Give our team a call today to set up an initial consultation to go over our estate planning services.