What is a Gun Trust in California?


If you’re a California resident who owns firearms, you may have heard of a “gun trust” and wondered if you need one. A gun trust can provide peace of mind for owners of a gun collection or Title II firearms.

What is a Gun Trust?

A gun trust is a revocable or irrevocable trust created to ensure the smooth transfer of your firearms when you pass away. The trust is a legal entity that officially owns the guns in it. The trust beneficiaries will be legally permitted to continue using the firearms after the owner’s death.

Avoiding an Inappropriate Trustee

Why create a gun trust instead of using a typical revocable living trust to distribute your firearms? While a revocable trust may be appropriate for distributing most assets post-death, additional restrictions apply to the transfer of firearms. 

If your trustee is prohibited from owning a firearm and takes possession of it after your death, they may face fines of up to $250,000 and ten years in prison. They may also be charged with a felony if they are:

  • A convicted felon
  • A convicted user of illegal drugs
  • A dishonorably discharged veteran 
  • A person who has renounced their U.S. citizenship 
  • A person with a history of mental illness
  • A person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense

Because of these risks, some gun owners opt to establish a gun trust in which the trustee and beneficiaries are all qualified and intended users of the firearms. 

Advantages for Title II Firearm Owners

You may place any legally owned weapon into a gun trust, but they’re especially advantageous for weapons that are classified under the National Firearms Act (NFA) Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Title II weapons include:

  • Fully automatic machine guns
  • Short-barreled shotguns 
  • Suppressors (aka “silencers”)

An NFA Title II weapon can only be used by the person to whom it is registered and no one else. Violating this law is a felony. If you create a gun trust and list multiple parties as the co-trustees, then each party can use the Title II weapon after passing the required background check and identification requirements. After you pass away, your intended beneficiaries can continue using the firearms.

The following types of weapons are NOT Title II weapons, but still may be placed into a gun trust:

  • Ordinary rifles
  • Pistols
  • Revolvers

Avoiding Probate

One final advantage of a gun trust is that any guns placed in it will avoid a California probate after your death. Just like any asset held in a trust, the assets of a gun trust do not need to go through probate when you pass away. This also allows you to keep your gun collection private, rather than having an itemized inventory of your firearms made public in a probate proceeding.

How to Create a Gun Trust

Consult an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance in drafting a gun trust. A trust attorney can advise you and help you avoid missteps, such as naming an inappropriate beneficiary. The final recipient of the guns must be able to pass a background check and identification process before they can take possession of the firearm(s). Be sure to include a backup beneficiary to inherit the gun(s) in case your original intended recipient fails the background check. 

If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to contact our law firm.

Law Offices of Daniel A. Hunt

The Law Offices of Daniel A. Hunt is a California law firm specializing in Estate Planning; Trust Administration & Litigation; Probate; and Conservatorships. We've helped over 10,000 clients find peace of mind. We serve clients throughout the greater Sacramento region and the state of California.