What Will Happen to My Guns When I Die? How to Plan for a Transfer of Firearms in Estate Planning

By Attorney Isaiah M. Richie, Schloemer Law Firm, S.C.

Wisconsin has a long tradition of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.  Many responsible parents teach their children the rules of safe shooting and hunting beginning from a young age, just as their parents did for them, and thus the traditions are handed down from generation to generation.

But something else that is sometimes handed down to the next generation is the rifle, or shotgun, or other firearm that the parents have been using their whole lives.  And while sometimes the next generation is more prone to use newer equipment in the field, there is something irreplaceable about using a piece of family history from time to time.  I still use my father’s 1956 Winchester Model 70 each year.  It is a wonderful reminder of the times we shared together.

If hunting is an important tradition in your family, or if you simply enjoy recreational shooting with your children, you should consider whether your estate plan adequately provides for passing on the “tools” of that tradition, or whether some additional considerations are needed.  There are a few roadblocks that could stand in the way of passing on a firearm, including the age of your children (a minor cannot take possession of a rifle until they are 18 for a rifle and 21 for a pistol), criminal record, or current mental state (for example a child who is addicted to recreational drugs or on heavy medication).

There are a few methods for transferring firearms through an estate, and each one has benefits and drawbacks:

  • Tangible Personal Property List. A tangible personal property list is a list which is attached to a Will or a Trust, which directs the administrator of your estate to gift specific items to certain people.  The benefit to using this list is that it can be changed as frequently as you want, without amending your actual estate planning documents.  However, this method also gives you the least amount of control over the firearms after you pass.
  • Using a Trust Based Estate Plan. Trusts are becoming much more popular in estate planning due to their flexibility and the benefit of avoiding probate (which is the court overseeing your estate).  If you use a trust plan, you can add protection to make sure your children are old enough or responsible enough to inherit a firearm.  For example, you can direct your successor trustee to hold the firearm in trust until your children reach the age of 21, complete a hunter’s safety course, or any other restriction you feel is important.
  • Creation of a Gun Trust. Gun Trusts saw a rise in popularity several years ago when there was a loophole in federal registration laws.  Gun Trusts could avoid the requirement that everyone with access to an NFA firearm or suppressor register with the proper authorities.  As long as the initial trustee completed the fingerprinting and background process, other “beneficiaries” of the trust could avoid the process.

The loopholes are closed, but there are still some benefits to using a Gun Trust.  One benefit, in particular, is that if you do own NFA firearms or suppressors, you can have your children go through the process of qualifying for ownership during your lifetime so you know there won’t be any issues when you are gone. Gun Trusts are also helpful if you want to provide for specific rules for the use of the firearms, such as sharing the use of a particular rifle for two or more children in alternating years, and creating a tool for keeping the firearms within the family for more than another generation.

Estate planning can be simple or complex, and knowing the right tools for the job is important.  At Schloemer Law Firm, S.C., we have the knowledge and tools that you might expect to find at a downtown Milwaukee firm, but we also share the values and traditions of rural Wisconsin.  We are dedicated to providing you with the advice you need to accomplish your estate planning goals, including how to pass down that legacy of hunting or shooting to the next generation.

If you have any questions or would like to set up a plan please contact the article’s author Attorney Isaiah M. Richie or one of our estate planning attorneys at 262-334-3471, or email us at [email protected].

Originally published: February 8, 2021.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law, Schloemer Law Firm makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content. You should consult with an attorney to review the current status of the law and how it applies to your unique circumstances before deciding to take—or refrain from taking—any action.  If you need legal guidance, please contact us at 262-334-3471 or [email protected].