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How to Transfer Firearms from a Deceased Person to Trust Beneficiaries in California?

With over 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens in America, it’s not surprising that California trustees often find themselves in the possession of firearms belonging to a deceased settler, with the responsibility to safeguard them pending the transfer to the beneficiaries.
In this article, our legal team of trust administration experts at Barr & Douds Attorneys will explain how to transfer gun ownership in California.

What Is a Firearms Trust?

A firearms trust is a legal document that allows gun owners to transfer their firearms to a trust. This legal structure helps in avoiding probate and ensuring that the firearms are transferred to heirs or beneficiaries. Additionally, it provides a way to manage firearms if the owner becomes incapacitated. Gun trusts also allow multiple people to own and manage firearms, making it an ideal solution for families who share firearms.

However, there are some disadvantages of a gun trust, such as the cost of creating a trust and the potential complexity of managing multiple trustees.


Who’s Responsible for Transferring Gun Ownership?

Under California gun inheritance laws, anyone, including a fiduciary, can be liable for transferring National Firearms Act Title II firearms (machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, etc.), assault weapons, or 50 BMG rifles to another person. In addition, there can be a liability for transferring any firearm where the transferor knew or had reasonable cause to believe of a recipient’s ineligibility to possess firearms. The nightmare scenario for a trustee is the innocent transfer of a perfectly legal firearm to a beneficiary who then uses it in a crime, creating potential liability for the trustee. Accordingly, any trustee, personal representative, or other fiduciary that takes possession of firearms should contact an attorney to protect him or herself from liability.

How to Legally Transfer Firearms

#1 Using Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL)

The simplest and safest manner for a trustee to transfer gun ownership of a deceased person in California is usually through a Federal Firearms Licensee (“FFL”). If the trustee processes the transaction through a FFL, the gun dealer will perform a mandatory background check on each beneficiary to ensure that he or she is eligible to possess firearms.

In California, it is illegal to transfer a firearm to someone who is not legally allowed to own one. This includes people who are convicted felons, people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill, and people who are under restraining orders. The background check performed by the FFL will help to ensure that the firearms are transferred to people who are legally allowed to own them.

#2 By Narrow Intra-Family Transaction Exception

An alternative to using a FFL is the narrow intra-family transaction exception provided by Cal. Pen. Code Section 27875. This exception allows a family to bypass the use of an FFL if all these requirements are met:

  • The recipient is 18 years or older
  • The recipient first receives firearm safety certificate
  • The transfer is between members of the same immediate family
  • A report is filed within 30 days of the transfer with the California Department of Justice detailing the transfer and firearm involved
  • The transfer is “infrequent” as defined by Pen. Code section 16730

“Infrequent” transfers are those that occur only occasionally and without regularity for long guns, and no more than six transactions per calendar year for handguns. An immediate family member, unfortunately, only includes a parent to child relationship or a grandparent to grandchild relationship. If the five requirements are met, the transferor may transfer the firearm without using a FFL.

Consult with a Qualified California Attorney

The assistance of an experienced attorney can make the process of transferring firearms to trust beneficiaries smoother and less stressful. At Barr & Douds Attorneys, we have a team of lawyers who are knowledgeable in trust litigation and gun inheritance laws in California. We can provide guidance and help in creating a firearms trust or transferring firearms to trust beneficiaries. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can assist you.

Loren Barr
by Loren Barr
Updated: April 11, 2024

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