We all have certain personal treasures that we hope to pass on to those we love.
The Rosenthal china that Mom bought piece by piece while living in Berlin, a centuries-old family icon or a cherished piece of jewelry can all be given to beneficiaries with relative ease. Our personal representative can simply follow our written instructions and give these loved possessions to our heirs, get receipts from them and consider it done.
However, not all collections or personal items can be so easily distributed. In fact, the transfer of some personal items could put your executor or trustee at risk for criminal prosecution if not handled appropriately.
Most adults can possess legal firearms, and many personal representatives or trustees will be put in the position of handling the transfer of a weapon. The way in which a representative deals with a gun and how it gets transferred to an heir can make the difference between a job well done and a lengthy prison stay. Complex laws govern the possession and transfer of firearms, so if you own firearms, make sure your representative knows how to handle their distribution.
If a representative is surprised to find a gun among a decedent's possessions, the first thing to do is to check for registration. If the gun is not properly registered, the representative should immediately contact local law enforcement. If the gun is unregistered or if the firearm is considered "exotic" according to federal law, the representative will need to meet current state and federal requirements that may include registration or surrender of the weapon.
Once the registration issue has been addressed, the personal representative has additional issues to consider. Does the intended beneficiary need to obtain a weapons carry license? Does the beneficiary live in another state and, if so, what are the laws of the beneficiary's own state and what laws pertain to transporting the gun across state lines?
Be kind to your representative. Let them know if you own a gun and where you keep the registration. Also, make sure the intended recipient of your gun has the legal right to receive and carry the weapon.
If you own exotic weapons, you may consider setting up a "gun trust." A gun trust can be made the owner of record and can ease the transfer to your intended beneficiary. A gun trust is similar to most trusts in that it can exist for a very long time, passing the collection from generation to generation without the requirement of re-registration.
Aside from guns, estate representatives must give special consideration to other assets such as wine collections, endangered species artifacts, large sums of cash or illegal drugs — but more on these next week.
A final rule on guns, and one that experienced trust professionals agree on, is "Never, ever, distribute a gun to an angry beneficiary."
Liza Horvath has over 30 years' experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 646-5262.