What Are the Legalities of Inheriting a Firearm?
What Are the Legalities of Inheriting a Firearm?
As the saying goes, only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Since we’re not trying to depress you, we won’t be talking about taxes. This post will cover what happens to your guns after you’re no longer around to enjoy them. Specifically, how the legalities work for passing firearms on to someone you love — or what you might need to do if you inherit them.
Leaving guns for your loved ones is a pretty common practice. Throughout the world, and especially in the United States, guns are often passed down from generation to generation. It’s not uncommon for them to become family heirlooms with stories and fond memories associated with them. Despite this, there is not a lot of information out there about the legalities of these practices.
Can You Inherit Firearms?
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: Yes, you can pass on or inherit a firearm. This practice is perfectly legal. However, there are a number of varying regulations, restrictions and hoops to jump through in certain cases. But in general, if a person can legally own a firearm, they can inherit one.
General Restrictions on Owning Firearms
This brings us to the next logical step in the legalities of firearms inheritance: You still have to follow the law. All federal, state and local laws still apply. This goes for every aspect of the firearm, whether it be the ownership, transportation or storage of firearms that are inherited.
Prohibitions on Owning Firearms
If you are prohibited from legally owning a firearm, you can’t circumvent the law by inheriting one. Say, for example, you're a convicted felon and can't legally own or possess a firearm — the law still applies. It doesn’t matter if it’s your granddaddy’s old rusted out .410 that most likely doesn’t shoot; it’s still a firearm under the law. Despite the familial bond, felon ownership is still a no-go.
The same applies for minors. They’ll have to wait until they can legally own that gun depending on what it is. If the law says they’re too young to own the firearm, they can’t have it. However, in this instance, you might have some options. You could always leave it with a different family member with specific instructions or you could make it part of a gun trust. Putting a firearm in a gun trust can ensure that the state doesn’t take it away; we'll cover more on firearms trusts below.
There are also an increasing number of states enacting legislation that impacts one’s right to own a firearm, so be aware of those. People with drug and alcohol abuse records or convictions (sometimes including misdemeanors) are prohibited in some states from firearms ownership. The same is true for those with domestic issues in some states. Those declared mentally unfit in certain circumstances and even those with certain types of mental illness histories may not be able to own a gun in some areas.
While it isn’t fun to think about, this is where a little prep work comes in if you’re the one planning to bequeath a firearm. Make sure the person you’re planning to give it to can have it — otherwise the state could end up with it. Also, if you think someone might decide to leave you their firearms, you might want to make sure there’s nothing that would block your acceptance of them.
State and Local Laws
If a license is required in your area for gun ownership, you’ll need one to inherit a firearm. If your state requires a Federal Firearms License (FFL) for all firearm transfers, you’ll have to go to your local FFL to process the paperwork before you can officially inherit guns.
You may need to do some research if you inherit a gun from another state. In most cases, it's perfectly legal to leave your state, take possession of the inherited firearms and drive them to your home state. That doesn’t mean you can take them straight home, though; you might have to take them to an FFL first.
In those instances, you may need to fill out paperwork and wait on a background check. Keep in mind that even if your state doesn’t have these requirements, your local city or county government might, so be sure to check with them as well. The best way to avoid potential issues is to always check both your state and local laws to verify exactly what you’ll need to do prior to taking possession of any inherited guns.
One way people can mitigate the hassles of things like FFL transfers or other infringements is by the creation of a gun trust. A gun trust can offer a way around these restrictions. Just to be clear, this isn’t a loophole and it doesn’t avoid the law. What it does is decrease the time and paperwork you have to do. If someone can’t own a firearm, they can’t get one by way of a trust. All a trust does is cut down on the headaches that come with firearms transfers after death by doing them before death.
In general, a gun trust is similar to other kinds of trusts. It takes the asset, in this case the guns, and puts them into a trust. Then, beneficiaries are named in the trust and they are the people authorized to use the assets contained within it. This can be helpful in a number of areas, especially by being able to have beneficiaries named prior to a person’s passing. This really cuts down on the headache after the fact, especially if you’re planning on trying to pass down NFA items like suppressors.
In reality, a gun trust is just a way of planning ahead. We aren’t lawyers and can’t provide legal advice, so talk with a lawyer dealing in firearm trusts to find out the specifics. Only you can know whether or not this is right for your situation, but it’s at least worth taking the time to investigate.
What Isn’t Prohibited?
The only things you need to be concerned with when inheriting are the guns and any NFA items themselves. Accessories for the firearms like slings and other unregulated attachments do not require any additional thought or special practices. The caveat for that is ammunition, as it is regulated in some states. Check your local laws to be sure, but in most cases you won’t have anything to worry about.
What if I Don’t Want Them?
First of all, how dare you.
Just kidding. There are many reasons why inheriting a firearm could be more trouble than it’s worth depending on your situation. You have options if you don't want guns that have been passed on to you. The two most common are sell and surrender.
This one kind of goes without saying: If you don’t have room, don’t want them or need the money, the most logical thing to do is to sell the guns. Depending on how well maintained they are, you can make a pretty good amount of money selling the guns. Plus, there are plenty of ways to sell guns, so you can shop around to see what will get you the best price.
This option is one most people probably wouldn’t even think of, but for those it suits, it’s the perfect option. If you don't want to deal with selling the guns, you can surrender them to your local police. They will either be put to use in some way or disposed of safely — most likely the latter.
Make sure you check with your local police about their procedures for doing this and let them know you’re coming. Rolling up on a police station with a bunch of guns unexpectedly is never a great idea. Remember, optics matter: For all you know, it looks to them like you’re trying to reenact Assault on Precinct 13. Always call ahead.
Whether you’ll be the one inheriting or the one passing the gun down, it’s important to understand everything that goes along with the legality of the transfer so you know you’re doing it right. That way, you can focus on the important things like the legacy attached to the gun.