California regulates firearms more than most other states. However, an estimated 4.2 million Californians still own guns. For many of these people, firearms represent a way of life: a means to feed their family, defend their home, or protect farmland against wild animals. Since rifles, handguns, and other weapons often accord both financial and sentimental value, they are frequently passed from one generation of the family to another.

However, California and the federal government have special rules that can land your heirs in hot water if you do not take the right steps to ensure you legally transfer your rifles, especially those regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA). A gun trust could provide an ideal way to shield your heirs from liability. Establishing a gun trust

NFA Gun Trusts

A gun trust can be used to store firearms or firearm accessories subject to the NFA which requires special “tax stamps” for Title II firearms. If an individual seeks to transfer possession of their Title II firearms to another person—whether for resale or as part of an inheritance—they must obtain the written consent of a state law enforcement officer.

If someone tries to transfer or receive Title II weapons without the proper tax stamps or the consent of a police officer, they could face penalties of:

  • Up to $250,000 in fines
  • Up to 10 years in prison

Gun trusts provide an ideal workaround because they can receive and transfer Title II tax stamps without law enforcement oversight.

Gun trusts can also provide other benefits:

  • You can retain full rights to your firearms while you are still alive.
  • If you nominate any co-trustees, they can use and possess firearms registered to the trust.
  • Once you pass away, your beneficiaries will be able to inherit your firearms outside of probate.
  • Your weapons cannot be seized from a gun trust if you are ever found mentally incompetent.

In California, the most popular NFA firearms and accessories include:

  • Suppressors
  • Short-barreled shotguns
  • Short-barreled rifles
  • Automatic rifles

Considerations for Creating a Gun Trust

You should never try to establish a gun trust by yourself. Since gun trusts are regulated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, you could be heavily penalized if you make any mistakes in your trust paperwork. Even if the ATF or state regulators do not catch your mistake, any error could affect your beneficiaries.

Before you meet your California estate planning attorney for the first time, you should consider:

  • If your trust will be revocable or irrevocable
  • If you want to nominate any co-trustees—a co-trustee can use, possess, and operate firearms registered to the trust
  • Where you plan to store your trust-owned firearms while you are still alive
  • How you will transfer any Title II tax stamps to the trust’s possession
  • If all of your heirs are legally allowed to own a firearm

Contact Us Today

Setting up a gun trust can be challenging and risky without professional guidance. If you’re interested in establishing a gun trust, send the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. a message online today.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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