Firearms: Will vs. Trust

A common question from clients is why should I use a trust to distribute my firearms after death? Phrased another way, what are the advantages of using a trust over a will?

Most people are familiar with the concept of a will. In short, at your death a will specifies who receives the property you owned. This bequeath is outright and occurs as soon as your Personal Representative (SC’s version of an executor) finishes the paperwork.

Anything and everything written in a will becomes public information as a record of the Probate Court. Additionally, any collections, including collections of firearms, passed via will are subject to being appraised and a copy of the appraisal filed with the Probate Court. Any interested party, or the judge himself, can request this appraisal.

Thus if you divide your firearm collection by will, or a beneficiary or the judge takes interest and requests an appraisal, all of the information on your collection, including description of firearms and who receives them, becomes public information. Many of my clients are disturbed by this idea.

A trust on the other hand is a private document that does not go through the Probate Court to distribute the firearms. Any lists, descriptions, or divisions in the trust remain private. The only time this would become public is if a beneficiary sues the trust and this information is made public as part of the suit.

This privacy gain is one big reason to use a trust. Firearms, unlike money in the bank, are physical assets normally kept at home. Most of us quickly see the danger in telling the world where thousands of dollars of very liquid and desirable assets are located; especially when that location is with a loved one that we are no longer there to protect. Add to this a distrust of government when it comes to firearms and the benefits of privacy become obvious.

Another significant difference between trusts and wills is the amount of control you have when passing on your belongings. Property distributed via will is given outright to the recipient as soon as paperwork is completed with the Probate Court.

With a trust, the gift can be delayed, conditional, or merely use of property during a lifetime. This allows the the creator to give children use of the firearms while ensuring the guns are passed down to the next generation. Or, more commonly, recipients can be made to wait until they reach an age of maturity.

All of these mechanism have one common goal: Ensuring your property is used wisely and preserved for future generations. A trust provides the flexibility to use many controls on gifts and thereby to preserve assets and influence the recipient. When dealing with minors or young adults, trusts are invaluable to see the property through adolescence.

Last, a firearms trust has much greater guidance for the trustee and protections from common mistakes. Wills deal with all types of property and focus on guiding your Personal Representative in handling probate and dividing property. A firearms trust takes into account that some people in our society cannot legally own the property being transferred and that some states restrict this property, or the transfer of it, in special ways.

Guidance to the trustee in the trust alerts him to possible issues, restrictions, and disqualifications from owning firearms. This protects both the trustee and the beneficiary who may otherwise receive property he cannot own or could not possess in his current location.

Together these benefits make trusts superior tools for passing down firearm collections. The downside? You still need a will to cover everything else. If you are interested in what benefits a trust or will can provide for you, please contact my office for a consultation and recommendations.