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The Benefits of a Firearms Trust (NFA Trust)

Aug. 25, 2021

4 firearms resting in a gun safeIf you’re a gun owner or collector, especially one who has been licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE, ATFE, or simply ATF) to own weapons and devices that are otherwise illegal, you should consider the establishment of a Firearms Trust.

A Firearms Trust will save your beneficiaries or those to whom you entrust your collection the potential of violating federal law without even realizing it. It will also facilitate the passage of ownership through the BATFE registration process once you are gone.

At the Redmond Law Group located in Troy, Michigan, and serving clients throughout Oakland and Macomb counties, I have long been helping clients exercise their Second Amendment rights, which include the right to possess weapons and associated devices controlled by the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, as amended by the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Whether you own NFA firearms or not, a Firearms Trust can transfer your weapons to your beneficiaries outside of probate court, which means the public will never be aware of what you own and who is inheriting them. It will also help facilitate and perpetuate the licensing of NFA firearms and devices you’re passing along.

Michigan and Federal Gun Laws

Restrictions on the types of weapons and individual requirements for gun ownership vary state by state. In Michigan, anyone 18 or over can purchase a long gun – with a barrel of at least 26 inches – unless they have a criminal or mental health history. At 18, individuals can obtain a purchase license for a handgun if buying from a private dealer. If buying from a federally licensed dealer (FFL), you must be 21.

Michigan Penal Code, MCL 750.224, prohibits the manufacture, sale, or ownership of gun mufflers or silencers and “a machine gun or firearm that shoots or is designed to shoot automatically more than 1 shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

However, ownership of machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns, and other explosive devices is possible if these so-called “NFA firearms,” or “Title II weapons,” have been registered with BATFE.

In other words, though no one can any longer manufacture these products, some of them may have been passed down through the generations to gun collectors, relatives, and others, so long as BAFTE registration requirements were met. Gun dealers in Michigan still offer these weapons and devices for sale pending BAFTE approval of the buyer.

Placing NFA Firearms and
Devices in a Firearms Trust

If you die and leave NFA firearms to your heirs through a will, or worse, die without a will (intestate), the weapons will have to go through the probate process. This means that your ownership will be available for public viewing.

It also lays a heavy burden on the executor of your will (or the named administrator if you die intestate) to qualify your weapons for renewal with BATFE. One misstep by an uninformed executor, and the executor and/or heirs could be subject to federal charges of illegal possession.

As mentioned, a Firearms Trust — also known as an NFA Trust — not only avoids probate but also makes the BAFTE registration transfer process easier. If you inherit a Title II weapon outside of a trust, or you try to purchase one on the market from a federally licensed dealer, you must go through many steps. One of the most difficult hurdles is getting the approval of your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO). When the transfer occurs with a trust, that step is avoided.

Difference Between a Living
Trust and a Firearms Trust

In a Living Trust, you can leave your assets to your beneficiaries by naming them in a trust, with a trustee appointed to administer your wishes. In a Firearms Trust, you can name several individuals to be trustees, thus ensuring multi-generational transfer of your Title II weapons’ ownership.

Also, having a Firearms Trust avoids the loss of your firearm rights should you become incapacitated. The trust will pass your rights along to your named trustee or trustees should you become incapacitated. It is important, though, that you name trustees who understand BAFTE and NFA registration requirements, as well as the process for transferring ownership.

Though Firearms Trusts are used primarily for Title II weapons, people with large gun collections of all sorts – Title II or Title I (ordinary pistols and guns) or a combination thereof – can also benefit from the privacy aspect of establishing a trust and controlling how your firearms are inherited rather than relying on the court.

Work with an Experienced
Firearms Trust Attorney

Settling up a Firearms Trust is not a do-it-yourself project. Even with the trust, both the federal and state government present legal hurdles that must be met when transferring Title II weapons and devices. The trust document must be carefully drafted, and registration procedures carefully followed after the trust takes effect, whether due to death or incapacitation.

At the Redmond Law Group, I have helped numerous collectors and owners establish Firearms Trusts to facilitate the legal and expedited transfer of BAFTE registration. You can rely on me to help you do the same. Contact me if you live in the Troy, Michigan area, or in the neighboring areas of Oakland County or Macomb County.