Trusting Your Guns

BB SBR Full Auto 9mm supHaving a planned course of action in case of unexpected events is advocated throughout the defensive firearms training industry. It is also important to have a plan for your firearms in case something unexpected happens that prevents you from possessing them, such as incapacitation or death. Gun trusts are the best way for responsible gun owners to leave explicit legal instructions regarding how their firearms are stored and distributed in the event of incapacitation or death. Taking the time upfront to inventory, plan, and have a backup plan for your firearms may save you and future generations of your family time, money, and potential legal hassles.

It’s important to understand that a gun trust is not merely useful for transferring items after the owner’s incapacitation or death. It’s equally important, and sometimes more important, to have the gun trust in force to legally allow specified others to possess the NFA items without the creator(s) of the trust being physically present.

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NFA Regulations

The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 mandates specific regulations regarding the sale, transfer, and possession of many firearms and devices. The most commonly regulated are fully automatic firearms, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, and suppressors. As responsible firearms owners, we need to understand the implications these regulations have on where the firearms and devices are stored, along with who is authorized to use the firearms or devices. Certain states are imposing laws that regulate magazine capacity and types of firearms that are not addressed by the NFA. A gun trust can also detail exactly how to deal with these restrictions.

Gun trusts have become increasingly popular as responsible firearms owners are looking for ways to own and use NFA firearms and/or devices. The rising popularity of gun trusts has rung in a popular wave of “do-it-yourself” gun trusts and “fill-in-the-blanks” online forms to create gun trusts. While tempting for some because of the perceived lower cost or greater convenience, be wary of taking the do-it-yourself route. Those DIY gun trusts will most likely not provide the requisite specificity of provisions or adequate instructions regarding how your firearms and devices should be handled. Such details include factors like: ensuring the items go to the appropriate and authorized persons, transferring to those individuals in full compliance with the law, avoiding unnecessary expense, ensuring the trust lasts for more than one generation, ensuring the trust correctly designates multiple trustees if appropriate, and coordination with state and federal laws.

Reno Guns & RangeHere at Reno Guns & Range, where I am the Range Manager and Senior Instructor, we work with and recommend Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd, who specifically write trusts for individuals located in California and Nevada. They also have a network to accommodate those who live throughout the United States. I highly recommend working with an experienced firm, such as the one we work with, that can articulate what a gun trust is, and how and why the Trustor(s), Trustee(s), and beneficiaries interact with one another.

Compliance With Local and Federal Laws

Creating a gun trust is not just about planning for your firearms and/or devices after your death. It also helps keep you in compliance with local and federal laws. This is usually spelled out as to the “intent” of the gun trust. My gun trust states, “We created this trust to own, possess, and transfer firearms and accessories, especially those that must be dealt with under express provisions of state or federal law, in accordance of all applicable law. We desire to maintain our privacy and avoid probate and guardianship.”

winchester gun safeIf you own NFA firearms or devices personally, you are the only person who is legally allowed to be in possession of the given weapon or device. You must be physically present while any other individual merely holds the weapon or device. The gun trust helps mitigate the legal exposure of the owner and the person using or possessing the item or device from being placed in a situation where they may face criminal charges. Avoiding this type of situation is another reason why I recommend having a gun trust, because the gun trust becomes the owner of the devices or firearms and lists who is allowed to use and possess them. Proper documentation still needs to be present with the NFA items, but the originating individual(s) who established the trust is no longer required to be physically present.

Creating a gun trust also helps the creators think about what should be done with the firearms and devices should the beneficiaries not be able to take immediate possession should the need arise. This could be due to the beneficiaries being out of the country, under 21 years old, or living in a state where the firearm or device is illegal. The trust should include back-up plans that specifically address these and other plausible circumstances as dictated by the creator’s lifestyle.

Gun Trust Portfoliol

Storage Options + Gun Trust = Security

Reno Guns & Range has storage options for our members and the general public. These storage options, along with a well-written gun trust, may be the difference between the firearms and devices getting liquidated or being able to stay within the family. Thinking through plausible circumstances and taking into account that laws are constantly changing, your gun trust should be able to evolve with those changes. Having a personal inventory is also important for insurance reasons, should the firearms and devices be stolen or destroyed through a natural disaster. Your attorney should help you devise a plan to keep your inventory up to date, and keep back-up records for you.

As an active Combat Focus Shooting instructor, I teach students to prepare for the worst-case scenario with their handgun. Off the range, I also teach that preparation for worst-case scenarios is not just about guns and criminal activity. Understanding that we cannot be in control or aware of everything all of the time leads to better planning. It’s a holistic approach to our lifestyle — which should include planning for after our death — that helps bring comfort and balance to the present.

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25 Responses to “Trusting Your Guns”

  1. Dan Hawthorn

    I found this to be a very interesting article. I have a revocable trust that was made after my first wife died. I have spelled out in it which of my many guns I want to go to whom. Now you have convinced me that it is not enough and I need a gun trust. I will try and locate one here in Northwest, Arkansas and go from there. Thanks for the article and if you know of an attorney here NW, AR, please forward the name to me. I always like to get two attorney’s opinions before doing anything. I learned this the hard way and I have taken a few law courses myself many years ago.

  2. Mark

    I set up a gun trust just before the change in the laws through an attorney … go to He is in Jacksonville, Fl. excellent attorney and very knowledgable in gun trusts.

  3. JoeC

    Great subject to discuss, especially with ever-changing state regulations. Today’s legal transfer may not be tomorrow’s legal transfer, especially if the recipient moves into another more restrictive state. How is that going to be handled? It drives me crazy just thinking about this.

  4. derek2

    If one has a CCW, and the guns listed are designated as “owned by Trust…”, how does that affect the CCW?

    • Customer Service


      Because a Gun Trust lists, who is allowed to use and possess them, it should be covered. However, each state has its laws as they pertain to permitting and carry there isn’t a simple answer. The use/carry of a gun belonging to trust is something that the professional helping form the trust should be able to answer. It might be as simple as what was stated above or even leaving the listed carry guns off the trust.

  5. larry

    The main question for me is…where would my collection be stored if I died tomorrow? I wouldn’t want the guns to be disbursed for a few more years.

  6. Derek Jones

    Question concerning adding/subtracting to trust: “If I want to add/subtract to/from my trust, can I simply redo my inventory list relating to the trust and attach it to the trust… without notifying or filing anything, anywhere, to anyone?

  7. John Golecki

    Can you recommend an attorney or legal service in the area I live. Which is the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
    I found it very informative. I never thought of having a Gun Trust. Thank you and I hope you have some recommendations for me.

  8. Art

    i have been putting off my will or should i say writing my will. i am going to leave my sister in charge and have her divide my guns up among my brothers and sisters kids. i have none. i have no NFA items so this does not seem to apply to me. everything else will have my sister take care of it. maybe, i might get a silencer but probably only one and that just does no seem worth a trust. actually i can give her everything and have her divide it up. i would like to make sure my guns continue on for a few generations. freedom and the second. this country is getting crazy and complete control of us is very close once they instigate electronic money freedom is gone for ever…..

  9. Shannon

    Very will written and important information. Clear. All legal shooters should study and understand.

  10. Treg

    As some of us who want our possessed firearms from past ‘private sales’ to remain restricted knowledge to the public and the powerful, there was a line in the above article, “We DESIRE to maintain our privacy and avoid probate and guardianship.” Does this legal document (trust) during any of the legal process of determining legitimacy of the trust, ownership, transferring, etc., provide the opportunity of the make and/or model and/or serial numbers and such to get into the hands of the entities we are so preciously avoiding?

    • Ken Crawford

      The inventory of your personal firearms are private and remain private. The trust provides the framework through designating Trustees and Beneficiaries of who may posses the firearms and/or devices that the Trust owns. A copy of the Trust (not the inventory that the Trust) is sent to the ATF when purchasing a new device or firearm that is an NFA item and needs to be transferred. Items can be added and removed from the trust at any time.

    • Stan

      I have a gun trust here in Colorado. I also have this concern about some of my weapons. I was required to do gun transfer (not sure what it is called) from my person to the gun trust. I had to do this through a gun dealer who did the Fed thing like a private party sale. Therefore, I am concerned about weapons I possess that are not in the system with my name associated with them. I have not put these into the gun trust.

    • Ken Crawford

      While Guns trusts are typically written to cover NFA items, it is advisable to get one set up and transfer all of you existing firearms into it. This way you are able to spell out how you want the firearms distributed and may help with dealing with magazine and/or firearm restrictive state laws.

  11. dcsmithing

    Very nice article. I find very little talk of this type in the popular and current gun magazines. I think it possible that this area of planning is the least or most nonexistant area of thought of gun ownership. Wondering if those that have a living trust could use that frame work to add the firearms and equipment to. This type of information would be great to have in future training articles. DS Oro. CA.

    • Ken Crawford

      The framework can be added to an existing living trust; however, it is generally not a good idea. Revocable living trusts are designed to transfer assets such as real estate, bank accounts, and vehicles from one generation to the next. A typical revocable living trust does not address the state and federal laws regarding passing firearms (Title II or others) from one generation to the next.

    • cst

      A trust from a reputable lawyer generally runs in the 300 – 350 dollar range but this can vary by location as well as complexity needed. If you contact Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd <> they will be able to give you more information or get you in contact with a lawyer that specializes in trusts for your state.