ESTATE PLANNING AND SETTLEMENT FOR GUN OWNERS

// Keep your executor out of trouble
// Know the laws about specific firearms
// Valuation: know what you have
// Know how to transfer guns to beneficiaries
// Know your rights

KEEP YOUR EXECUTOR OUT OF TROUBLE

Would you think of asking your executor if he or she had a police record?

As a gun owner, you need to know this to avoid potentially serious problems.

Federal Law: The mere possession of any type of firearm or ammunition by a "prohibited person" is a Federal crime. There is no exception for executors and trustees. The statute contains a long list of "disqualifiers" including:

  • Conviction in any court of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison
  • Being an unlawful drug user
  • Having been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions
  • Having been convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence

Connecticut Law: Our State law is even tougher than the Federal law. For example, if your executor had been convicted—even as a juvenile—of crimes including selling drugs or misconduct with a motor vehicle, he or she cannot legally possess any firearm. There are further restrictions regarding handguns.

KNOW THE LAWS ABOUT SPECIFIC FIREARMS

"NFA Weapons"
Machine guns, short barreled rifles and shotguns and certain other items are subject to the National Firearms Act (NFA). This includes so-called "deactivated war trophies" which, although rendered incapable of firing, are still "NFA weapons." The mere possession of these items by anyone who doesn't have the appropriate documentation (not just convicted criminals) is a federal crime. Ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Your executor must have the registration and tax documents for all NFA items. Without them your executor could be prosecuted.

"So-Called "Assault Weapons"
The distinction may be cosmetic, but one is OK and another will put you in jail.

Look at the two pictures. What differences do you see? The rifle on the left is perfectly lawful. The one on the right can get you and your executor in trouble merely because it has two "bad" features – a bayonet lug and a flash hider.

Executors of Connecticut estates have to be careful. There are some very subtle distinctions in the statutes. Whether a so-called "assault weapon" is legal may depend on whether it is a "listed" or a "configuration" gun and, in some cases, when it was manufactured.

VALUATION: KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE

Sometimes, the difference between a valuable item and a "shooter" is, in the words of one Supreme Court justice, an "attenuated subtlety."

Example: The Government had a huge number of .45 pistols manufactured during World War II. Industries rapidly converted from producing consumer goods to manufacturing pistols.

Would your executor know the difference between pistol made by Remington Rand and one manufactured by Singer Sewing Machine? The difference is approximately $30,000. An executor's failure to obtain proper appraisals can be costly.

The Appraisal Dilemma: Your executor must determine the value of all of your assets. Finding a competent appraiser is no more difficult with firearms than with any other type of asset. However, you can face complications. Imagine your executor bringing Aunt Hazel's china to an appraiser and being told that he or she could not get it back. Sound farfetched? Consider the following scenario:

Your executor delivers your handgun to a dealer to have it appraised. The dealer gives your executor an opinion of value, and says that he will accept the gun for sale on a consignment basis. Your executor later wants to obtain a "second opinion" and wants to take the gun to another dealer. The first dealer refuses to give it back. What can the executor do? Nothing. The dealer has done nothing wrong. He is simply following the law.

Under Connecticut law, a handgun may only be lawfully "transferred" (sold or given) to a dealer, or to a person with a pistol permit or an eligibility certificate. Re-delivery to an unlicensed person by a dealer is a transfer within the statute. Once a handgun is in the dealer's possession, your executor's only options would be to consign it to that dealer or sell them to him outright. Your executor cannot get it back.

Solution: An executor should have the dealer come to him or her. The dealer can examine the gun, take pictures of it and give the executor an estimate of its value. As long as the gun does not leave the executor's possession there is no problem.

KNOW HOW TO TRANSFER GUNS TO BENEFICIARIES

Rifles and Shotguns – In State: Most rifles and shotguns are freely transferable within Connecticut, but, your executor has to watch out. He or she has to be sure that the proposed transferee is not a disqualified person under Federal or State law. It is safe to sell most rifles and shotguns privately to someone who has a Connecticut pistol permit.

Pistols and Revolvers – In State: The only people to whom you may lawfully transfer (sell or give) a handgun in Connecticut are those with pistol permits or eligibility certificates. In addition, all transfers must be in compliance with the state statutes.

So-Called "Assault Weapons": With some important exceptions, it is a felony to transfer any so-called "assault weapon."

All Firearms – Out of State: Suppose you want to, or have to, transfer firearms to a beneficiary in another state? What do you do? Give them to the beneficiary while he is in Connecticut, so that he may drive home with them? No. Send them by UPS? No. You need to have them transferred by a dealer in Connecticut to a dealer in the recipient state. That is the only absolutely safe way to effectuate an out of state transfer.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

Firearms are one of the most heavily regulated products in the country.

Federal, state and local statutes and regulations can easily make criminals out of uninformed executors and trustees.

Sometimes nearly imperceptible differences can separate a perfectly legal firearm from a prohibited one. These subtleties can also have a major effect on value.

Make sure that your executor is not prohibited from possessing firearms. You need to speak with your executor in advance to make sure that he or she is not only legally qualified, but would be comfortable dealing with your guns. You should also talk with your executor about the value of your collection.