An upcoming change in federal gun regulations stands to clarify the responsibilities of personal representatives of estates that include certain types of firearms.
Early this year, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed ATF Rule 41F, which makes significant changes to federal regulations regarding transfers of firearms covered by the National Firearms Act (NFA). The NFA regulates six types of firearms: machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, silencers, destructive devices, and a category of exotic weapons referred to as “any other weapons.” Conventional rifles, shotguns, and handguns are not subject to the NFA, although they are subject to other federal and state laws.
Rule 41F, which takes effect July 13, 2016, changes identification and background check requirements for transfers of NFA firearms, particularly with respect to legal entities such as trusts and limited liability companies. The rule, however, also provides clarification for personal representatives of decedents whose estates include NFA firearms.
Rule 41F adds a new section to the relevant regulations addressing possession and transfer of firearms registered to a deceased person. The new language clarifies that the person authorized by state law to administer the decedent’s estate—called a personal representative in Maine, or an executor or administrator in some states—may possess NFA firearms registered to the decedent during the administration of the estate without such possession being considered a “transfer” subject to the identification and background check requirements of the NFA. The rule also clarifies that the personal representative may transfer an NFA firearm in the estate to a beneficiary of the estate on a tax-exempt basis. A transfer to any other person is subject to transfer tax.
Rule 41F provides personal representatives welcome assurance that they are not violating federal law by taking possession of their decedent’s NFA firearms for purposes of administering the decedent’s estate. Because the patchwork of federal and state laws regulating firearms is complex, however, personal representatives would nevertheless be prudent to seek the advice of an attorney as to the possession and disposition of firearms included in their decedent’s estates.
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