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Inheriting Guns and Other Firearms

My client’s brother died in Los Angeles, California without a will (intestate), without a surviving spouse and without children.  His sister, my client, was his sole surviving heir.  When he visited California to begin the probate and clean out her brother’s house, she found a large collection of guns, rifles, bullets and magazines.  The collection contained Remingtons, Winchester, Colts and Rugers.

California law as it now stands makes the transfer between members of the same immediate family by gift, bequest, intestate succession, or other means exempt from the requirement firearm transaction be conducted through a firearms dealer.  If the person acquired ownership of the firearm from an immediate family member by bequest or intestate succession, existing law makes the importation of a firearm into the state exempt from the requirement that the firearm first be delivered to a firearms dealer in this state.

A transfer between “immediate family members” for purposes of qualifying for an exemption from using a firearms dealer defines those members as a parent, child, sibling, grandparent and grandchild whether consanguinity, adoption or step-relation.  So firearms transfers between siblings, as in my probate case, can be accomplished without the use of a dealer.

California has additional requirements that must be satisfied for these kinds of intestate transfers.  The person has obtained a valid firearm safety certificate, except that in the case of a handgun, a valid unexpired handgun safety certificate may be used.

The receipt of any firearm by the individual by bequest or intestate succession is infrequent as defined by law elsewhere.

The person acquiring ownership of the firearm by bequest or intestate succession is 18 years of age or older.

Within 30 days of that person taking possession of the firearm and importing, bringing, or transporting it into this state, the person shall submit a report to the Department of Justice, in a manner prescribed by the department, that includes information concerning the individual taking possession of the firearm, how title was obtained and from whom, and a description of the firearm in question. The reports that individuals complete pursuant to this subdivision shall be made available to them in a format prescribed by the department.

The estate administrator should work with a gun dealer licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and make sure the beneficiaries are capable of obtaining a firearm safety certificate. If the firearm must cross state lines to be delivered to the intended beneficiary, federal laws such as the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act will apply. Failure to comply with the NFA or GCA subjects the estate to penalties as severe as ten thousand dollars or ten years in prison.

As with all personal property, but particularly with a firearm, after the death of the owner it is imperative that the executor/trustee immediately locate and secure firearms. The executor/trustee must determine if the firearms were legally registered to the decedent and then a professional inventory and appraisal of the firearms must be conducted.

To handle a probate matter, call an attorney with the right expertise.