Want to build an NFA firearm, like a suppressor or short-barreled rifle? Want to easily transfer ownership of your guns to your children or heirs when the time comes? Then a gun trust is a great investment. But what is it? If you already started an NFA application through the ATF, then you've seen gun trusts mentioned. Let's clear it up.
What is a Trust?
First, you need to know what a trust is. A regular ole' trust is an entity recognized as an individual by any court or judge. It's kind of like a corporation. A trust holds legal ownership, or "title", over an item or collection of items or property. The individuals authorized to physically possess, transport, use, or physically own the items within the trust are called Trustees. The person who sets up the trust and who most bought and owns the items in the trust is called the Grantor. A trust is revocable. That means it can be dissolved by whoever set it up in the first place. When that happens, the person who created the trust takes sole ownership of the items or property from that dissolved trust.
So, What's a Gun Trust?
A gun trust holds ownership of firearms. In setting up a gun trust, the original buyer or creator of the firearms held in the trust still retains legal ownership of those items, as far as the ATF and federal law are concerned. But importantly, any trustees also on the trust can physically possess, transport, and use those firearms without the Grantor being present.
Why Would I Want a Gun Trust?
A gun trust provides two major benefits, especially if you're about to buy or build a Title II (NFA) firearm, like a short-barreled rifle or suppressor: Like we said, you and any trustees can share those firearms. If you buy or build such firearms as an individual without using a trust, only you can legally possess, transport, and use those guns. In this case, You can allow others to use them too, but only if you're physically present at the shooting range or field.
Second, a gun trust allows your children or designated heirs to easily and legally inherit your firearms when you die, as long as they're listed as trustees. The trust prevents the state and any meddling agencies from getting involved in your probate proceedings and attempting to confiscate your firearms. Even if you designate an heir in your will to receive an NFA firearm from your collection, he or she must clear the ATF's NFA application process before legally assuming ownership of that firearm. If your heir(s) physically receive an NFA gun from your estate without being approved under the National Firearms Act, they're technically committing a serious felony.
But when you use a gun trust to file for initial fabrication or ownership that NFA firearm, your trustees are approved as part of the application. This sets them up for life to legally receive and possess those guns.
Do I still maintain authority over my firearms?
Yes. As the Grantor, you're solely in charge of the firearms listed on your gun trust, how they're used, and who possess them at any time. Trustees cannot force you to give them your guns, ever, and you can remove a trustee from the trust at any time without their consent.
Can I add trustees later?
Yes. Even once your NFA application is approved, you can add a trustee to your trust. The process is surprisingly simple, and only requires amending the trust and notarizing it. Since the ATF passed an updated set of regulations known as "41F", trustees added after the fact do not need to submit fingerprints or photos to the ATF unless a new firearm is added to the trust with a new NFA application.
Is paperwork required if a trustee borrows or uses a firearm?
Nope. That's the advantage of the trust: Once approved, you and all trustees don't need to bother with paperwork when it comes to sharing the trust's firearms. Any trustee can travel anywhere (in most of the U.S., at least, state laws withstanding) and use those guns for any amount of time, without any paperwork being required.
How do I create a gun trust?
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it's incredibly easy. Many NFA-servicing retailers (like Silencer Shop) have dedicated paralegal teams that set up gun trusts every day. You can fill out the entire application online and digitally receive a legally binding gun trust in a few days. Other popular options come from National Gun Trusts and The Trust Shop. A local attorney familiar with firearm laws and probate can also create a trust for you.
What info is required to make my trust?
You must provide the following the information to your online trust service or local attorney:
- Your name
- Your address
- County of residence
- Phone number
- Email address
- Title of Trust (the trust's name; must include the word "Trust")
- Co-Trustees (who you will add to the trust as authorized users)
- Successor Trustees (Who will transfer your guns to beneficiaries)
- Trust Beneficiaries (Who will receive title of your guns when you die)
Successor trustees do not have access to guns held in your trust by default, unless they're added as co-trustees. Beneficiaries must be the age of 21 when you die to receive the trust's guns as an inheritence.
Are there different kinds of gun trusts?
Firearm retailers that advertise for-sale trust services like to market different types of gun trusts, like Silencer Shop's "single-shot trust", designed for one firearm only. But, legally, all gun trust do the same thing: Hold legal title over a firearm or firearms, allowing the Grantor and any trustees to use that firearm.
Is there a limit to how many trustees and guns I can put in my trust?
Typically, no. You can almost always use one trust for as many trustees and firearms as you own or will own later. Some trusts advertised by online services say that simpler, cheaper trusts (requiring less legal paperwork on their end) are designed for taking title of just a single firearm.
Are gun trusts only for NFA firearms or restricted guns?
No! You can add all your firearms to your trust if you want them to receive the same protection and convenience. That includes even firearms you've built at home from kits, whether it's an AR-15, handgun, shotgun, or any other firearm.
How do I use my trust to file an NFA application?
We wrote an entire guide on this! Our guide focuses on filing a Form 1 application to build an SBR. In summary, you'll select "Trust" as the application type, upload a copy of your trust as a .PDF, and have all trustees (including yourself as the Grantor) fill out and upload some questionnaires. Those questionnaires are similar to the paperwork you fill out when you buy a gun from an FFL.
Can I add an un-serialized firearm like an 80% lower to a trust?
Unfortunately, no. The firearms held in a trust must be uniquely identifiable for the purposes of probate and transfer to other individuals, which typically means they require a serial number. An un-serialized firearm built from an 80% lower could not be recorded in a trust.
Why would I want to file an NFA application as an individual?
The only advantage in filing as an individual is cost and minor convenience: Since you're the only applicant, you don't need to fill out any extra questionnaires or uploading any supporting documents. You also get to skip the cost of setting up a gun trust in the first place. But, importantly, you will be the only individual who can legally own and possess your NFA guns. If you want to will those firearms to an heir, they must go through the same NFA application process at your time of death. Regular firearms can be transferred more easily, but the recipients must typically go through a regular FFL background check and conduct a firearm transfer. A trust negates all of this.