Firearms in North Carolina Probate

Responsible estate planning for firearms involves the use of gun trusts. Gun trusts serve as a legal entity that ‘stores’ firearms. In the event the trust settlor dies, the trust continues to hold the assets (guns) and clear instructions outline the transfer or disposition of the items.

However, some estates lack a proper estate plan, no gun trust is present, and firearms are left to be distributed according to North Carolina probate law. When this happens, a number of legal ramifications are possible:

  • Executor error. Gun trusts can be used to manage guns regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). These tools can also manage non-NFA items. An executor might not know or understand the difference between these firearm classifications. For example, an executor might overlook a rifle that is 1.5” shorter than another. Short-barreled rifles are NFA items and require an ATF Form 5 before transfers occur. (Our gun trust attorney offers a Sample Form 5.) This oversight would trigger two felonies: One committed by the executor and the other by the recipient.
  • Family consequences. Surviving heirs might be guilty of committing an unintentional felony simply by having the firearms in their possession.
  • Non-compliance. Federal regulations are not the only rules to be concerned about. Compliance with state and local regulations are equally vital. Understand the laws where the gun owner resides. In the event the gun owner dies while traveling out-of-state with firearms, another set of regulations apply. Review the paperwork requirements for moving guns between states and what an inpidual should do if one unexpectedly inherits a gun.

Aside from planning for how firearms will be distributed upon someone’s death, what if the gun owner is the victim of an accident or suffers an unexpected illness that incapacitates them? Successor trustee provisions in a gun trust provide immediate power to the appointed person.

When a gun owner dies in North Carolina, surviving family members should act prudently. Contact an attorney with experience handling firearms in probate. Estate administration involving firearms is a complicated area of law, one that our attorneys can explain in simple terms so that inpiduals can move forward with a clear understanding of all available options.