A gun trust, also known as an NFA (National Firearms Act) trust, is a way to set up ownership of NFA firearms under a trust, rather than having them be owned by an individual.
In the past, owning NFA firearms under a trust was much more convenient and easy. For one, trusts applying for ownership of firearms didn’t have to get signed approval from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO). They also didn’t have to submit photographs or fingerprints, or go through the background checks individuals have to go through.
However, that all changed after July 2016, when a new law went into effect that took away some of the benefits trust ownership had over individual ownership. While having to go through a little red tape might discourage some to form a trust, this does not mean that there are no more benefits to gun trusts. Learn about pet trusts here.
On the contrary, forming a trust to apply for gun ownership does have its benefits. Gun trusts allow several individuals to legally own a firearm, since the settlor and trustees that form the trust can legally possess it. Another clear benefit from trusts is estate planning; if you set up a trust with your spouse or your children and the worst were to happen, they would legally be in possession of the firearm without any transfer hassles.
Now that the benefits are clear, let’s see how trust law applies to the specifics of a gun trust. The settlor is the person that legally owns the firearms, but the trustees are those in charge of handling them for the benefit of the settlor while they are alive, or for the beneficiary, once the settlor has passed away. This means that the settlor should also be listed as a trustee in order for them to legally possess and use the firearms owned by the trust.
In order for trusts to own NFA firearms, all the ‘responsible persons’ of a trust have to fill out several forms in order to be a part of said trust without it being void or invalid. Learn about the history of trusts.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (TFA) defines who in a trust qualifies as a ‘responsible person’. In this case, anyone who has any decision making power within the trust, which allows them to possess a firearm under the trust. Settlors and trustees automatically fall into the responsible person category. If beneficiaries have any decision making power in the trust, then they do qualify as a responsible person.
All of the responsible persons named in the trust must go through a background check, for which they have to provide two FD-258 finger print cards. Besides that, they must also fill out form 5320.23 with a 2’x2’ photo attached. The CLEO approval was replaced by a CLEO notification, making the process easier overall.
If the trust is registering an NFA firearm, Form 1 must also be filled out. If the trust is the transferee receiving an already registered firearm, Form 4 must be filled out in most cases, while Form 5 is required for tax exempt transfers.
While these are the generals of how to place or purchase a gun into a trust, the counsel of an attorney is highly recommended, especially one who is familiar with state and federal gun laws. Learn about gun trusts on Nolo.com.