If you're in the process of building an NFA gun or silencer, you'll have to fill out the ATF's online application to get approval. One of the first questions they'll ask is how you're filing: As an individual, or a trust? Filing as an individual is simple: You're the owner of whatever NFA item or gun you're building. But what's a trust? And why should you consider making one for your Form 4 (buying an SBR) or Form 1 (building an SBR) application?
What is an NFA/Gun Trust?
A trust is a legal entity that owns the title to an item or property. That item or property can be entrusted to a person or people (called trustees), who can physically hold, possess, and use that item or property for any period of time, even indefinitely. The person who creates the trust has authority over the item and trustees. This person is called the grantor or trustor.
A gun trust (sometimes called an NFA trust, since they're mostly used for NFA firearms) holds ownership of one or more firearms. The person who files for the trust is the firearm owner and grantor. A gun trust can hold ownership over NFA items, typically called Title II firearms. That includes machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, AOWs, grenades, and other exotic arms.
What's the benefit of a trust?
When you file for NFA firearm ownership with a gun trust, the trust becomes the legal entity that owns the firearm (even though, practically, you are still the rightful owner). There are quite a few benefits to this:
More than one person can use the trust's weapons.
You might have close friends or family who enjoy shooting as much as you and normally, you can loan firearms to them. Except an individual who owns an NFA gun can't share a Title II Firearm with other people -- unless the gun is held by an NFA trust. Then, anyone you add to the trust can legally possess, use, and transport that gun. You don't need to be present, either.
Your guns are protected after you die.
It's a topic that often goes unspoken until the time comes: When you die, your firearms need to be legally transferred, usually to a family member. But if you file as an individual owner of an NFA gun, then whoever takes ownership of that gun must also submit an application. The process can be messy, and your loved ones could potentially break the law by taking ownership without proper paperwork.
If you keep your NFA gun(s) in a trust, then your estate's executor (the person who handles transferring your assets to your surviving kin) and your family members can be made trustees well before they need to take legal ownership of your NFA hardware.
You can avoid future restrictions on gun transfers.
Politicians are always looking for ways to get firearms out of American gun owners' hands, especially weapons they find scary, like Title II guns. The anti-gun movement could very well propose and pass legislation banning the legal transfer of NFA firearms, effectively removing them from circulation when the original owner dies. If you maintain a trust, there is never a "transfer" between trustees when one individual possessing the NFA item gives it to another trustee. Both individuals can already legally hold that firearm.
You can add or remove trustees at any time.
Want to keep the ownership of your NFA guns to more people, fewer people, or none at all? As the grantor, you can add or remove trustees and beneficiaries at any point in time. It's recommended you keep at least one trustee, so your NFA items can be legally protected by another individual whenever required, even during an emergency.
How Do I Set Up my Gun Trust?
A gun trust can be set up for one or more firearms. Setting up a trust is surprisingly easy: You can contact a local attorney who is preferably familiar with the practice, or you can use one of a few well-established online sources with dedicated legal departments who will create your trust for you.
Two popular and well-reviewed online trust sources include National Gun Trusts for all Title II items (average cost between $60 and $100) and SilencerShop for suppressors ($25 to $50 for a single suppressor, and $129 for unlimited Title II items).
What info do I need to provide for a trust?
Setting up a trust requires relatively basic information:
- Your full name
- Your full address
- County of residence
- Phone number
- Email address
- Title of Trust: The name can generally be anything you want, though most choose "[Last Name] NFA Trust". The word "Trust" must be in the title.
- Co-Trustees: These will be the other authorized individuals who can legally possess and use your Title II / NFA items. Co-trustees must be at least 18 years old.
- Successor Trustees: These folks will not have access to your NFA items, unless you also add them as co-trustees. Their purpose is to act as legal executors who may transfer your NFA items to the appropriate beneficiaries. Usually, co-trustees are also made into successor trustees.
- Trust Beneficiaries: These are the individuals who will hold your NFA property at the time of your death. Beneficiaries must be at least 21 years of age at the time of your death in order to take ownership.
Does my trust need a physical address?
Technically, a trust doesn't have an address. But you still need to input a physical address on your ATF applications. You'll use the address where you built and store your NFA firearms.
What else is required to form a gun trust?
You only need to provide the basic information requested by your lawyer or trust vendor, and pay the appropriate fees. You'll tackle the other requirements for becoming an NFA gun owner when you fill out the ATF's online applications.
How do I buy or build NFA guns with my trust?
When you fill out your application to build (Form 1) or buy (Form 4) a Title II firearm, like an SBR or suppressor, you'll upload a copy of your gun trust. You and your trustees' fingerprints will be recorded on FBI fingerprint cards and mailed to the ATF. You'll also have to upload a head-and-shoulders photo of each trustee to the online application. A background check will be conducted for the grantor and each trustee. To conduct the background check, the ATF will ask that you each fill out a section on the application called a Responsible Persons Questionnaire. It'll ask questions similar to those you have to answer when you buy a firearm from a gun dealer (FFL).
Can add guns I already own to my trust?
Yes! This is an excellent way to protect your existing firearm collection, especially if you plan on passing down your guns to your children or other beneficiaries. And, if you're in the process of converting an existing firearm to an NFA firearm ( like converting an AR pistol to an SBR), your trust can take ownership of your newly-converted SBR when you fill out the ATF's Form 1 application.
How do I add multiple guns to my trust?
Whether you file as an individual or trust, one ATF Form 1 or Form 4 application must be approved for each NFA item. With each application, you and your trustees must answer the Responsible Persons Questionnaire, and provide photos and fingerprints.
Why not use a gun trust?
Time and cost. Those are the only two reasons you might not use a trust when you're buying or building an NFA gun or suppressor. A trust costs more, it takes some time to set up and get the paperwork in order, and adding trustees means taking more photos, rolling more fingerprints, and answering more questions for the ATF. If you're the only person who will be using your NFA weapons, then a trust offers no advantage beyond probate proceedings and estate transfers. You can always set up beneficiaries for your NFA firearms later, and other individuals can still use your NFA firearms as long as you're physically present.
- A gun trust ("NFA trust") holds legal ownership of your firearms
- You, the grantor, remain the original gun owner and main authority
- Trustees can be added, who have legal access to the trust's guns
- A gun trust protects your firearms by allowing others to hold them
- You cannot share or loan NFA firearms to others unless you use a trust
- The trust provides an easy, legal way to transfer ownership when you die