I have written estate plans for a lot of gun owners and I find that they are surprised to learn that transferring a gun is a lot different than willing other forms of personal property. Therefore, I feel it is important to address a few of the myths surrounding the passing down of firearms.
Myth #1 – I do not need to include my guns in my Will. My family knows my wishes.
While your family may know what you want done with your guns, it isn’t always that simple. If you will a firearm to anyone without a valid FOID card (in Illinois), and that person takes possession, then they have committed a felony.
Or, if that person lives in another state and takes the firearms across state lines, it is now a federal felony—punishable with 5 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. That is probably not the “gift” you intended.
But these scenarios are easily preventable with proper planning.
Myth #2 – My guns are noted in my Will. That is enough.
Unfortunately, every item listed in your Will goes through the probate process. Probate is a public hearing where a judge determines who gets the items in your estate.
So not only will everyone know which guns you own and how much your collection is worth, but your beneficiaries will have to pay the transfer tax per firearm–and possibly estate taxes on top of that. Did I mention the lawyer fees?
Myth #3 – I created a Revocable Living Trust online to protect my guns from the probate process.
While a RLT certainly is a helpful estate planning tool, it is not, however, a good place to put your gun collection.
Why? The fact is that an online RLT can be downright dangerous, since they do not contain firearms-specific language. Some boilerplate RLTs have even proved invalid in court. So RLT downloaded from the internet or purchased from a gun shop might seem like a economical option, but it can cost your family more money in the long run.
The most effective method for protection is a gun trust. A gun trust is a special-purpose trust written to hold ONLY your firearm collection. You are trustee and beneficiary. You can appoint successor trustees, lifetime and remainder beneficiaries, and the trust can be amended or revoked at any time.
A gun trust ensures your guns will be handled lawfully after your death or incapacity, allows easier application and ownership of NFA items, permits ownership transfers without the $200 tax, and avoids probate and guardianship.
Most importantly, it protects your firearms from being declared illegal in the future.
Gun collecting isn’t like other hobbies. You’re not stashing away beanie babies in the attic. You’ve invested considerable amount of time and money into your guns. If you are interested in protecting your investment, contact me at 618-659-4499 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit our website at www.sivialaw.com/estateplanning.