Class III Ownership without the use of a Trust

Many clients call me who already own multiple NFA weapons, such as suppressors, SBRs and automatics that they usually acquired in the past 30 years. Unfortunately many were just recently made aware of the possibility of owning these weapons through the use of a Trust. While a Trust can be created at any time, ownership of NFA items without a Trust only entitles the owner of record to possess or control these weapons. 

In plain English, this means that it is a FELONY for anyone else to possess any NFA weapon to which they are not an owner or Trustee of record. There is no family exception, there is no brother, sister, spouse, etc. exception. In short, if an individual purchases a NFA firearm without using a corporation or Trust, they are the only ones who are permitted to possess the weapon. There are no exceptions to this located in the NFA laws currently. You may find conflicting information out there on the internet in the form of 'armchair lawyers' and statements made previously by the ATF out of context. The problem with out-of-context letters and anecdotal statements is that they will not hold up well against prosecutors in the courtroom. I take the most conservative approach to the letter of the law and advise the use of a Trust or Corporation. 

The main benefit of having ownership of Class III weapons in a Trust or Corporation is that other people are able to use and enjoy them. Your existing Class III weapons will need to be transferred to the new Trust or Corporation in order to be part of the new Trust. I can explain these options and what needs to be done once you contact my office. 

What does a 'bad' Trust look like?

I do not recommend purchasing Trusts which do not have the ability to add and remove co-Trustees as this neuters the Trust and is evidence of a poorly written Trust. I also do not recommend purchasing a Trust from any entity who does not specifically state who wrote the Trust. Lately I have seen a number of poorly written Trusts which were found "on the internet" come into my office needing to be re-written. 

Your Trust or Corporation is not just a document, but a full, legally binding explanation of who and what owns your weapons. When written and created correctly, it serves as an entity capable of owning all manner of firearms and contemplates changes in your life including divorce, incompetence, death, and prohibiting factors just to name a few. Poorly written Trusts found on a forum, by some software or by a person not familiar with the requirements of federal and state laws leave you and your fellow members open to potential criminal and civil charges depending on what is missing. 

Class III/NFA ownership is an investment, both financially and in your estate planning. Failing to ensure that the correct entity with the correct language is set up at the outset of ownership is a clear way to endanger both your rights and the rights of all those who you include in your Trust or Corporation. 

How can my 'bad' Trust be fixed?

I am able, after a complete consultation and review of your existing Trust to offer amendments or restatements of your Trust. Not all Trusts are able to be amended and depending on how 'bad' they are, it maybe impossible to fix the errors which were previously committed. However, an amendment or restatement is not a new Trust, so those weapons already in the Trust are not transferred and additional processing fees are not incurred. Each situation and Trust is different and my ability to amend or restate them is also different. In order to get a complete assessment, please contact my offices by using a form or by calling me directly at (412) 480-9950.

Contact Benjamin Scott Johns, Esq.

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