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Estate Planning for Your Guns

The death of a loved one is a very difficult time; the grieving process is different for each person and can extend over years. One of the hardest things to be faced is the distribution of a loved one’s tangible personal property (aka “things”). As a gun owner, this process at your death can be even more difficult as there are very specific laws to be followed especially in light of the New York State SAFE Act. If you make plans now for the proper disposition of your guns, or leave detailed information for your executor, you will be doing a tremendous service to your family.

Prepare an Inventory

Your future executor should be aware of what firearms you own, where they are located, how accessed, an approximate value of the guns, and licenses you hold. A list of the items owned with all pertinent information would be very helpful and the list could also include a reference to whom you bequest the item in your will. This will guide the executor in transferring the right item to the right person and the approximate value will help the executor if they must sell any of the firearms.

Onondaga County Sheriff’s handgun disposal regulation

There are specific rules regarding the transfer of handguns, and this should be considered in your planning. If you are going to leave a pistol to a licensed pistol holder for example, the recipient can go to the sheriff’s office with their permit, your permit and your executor, and the gun can be transferred. The Onondaga County Sheriff’s website provides instructions as to the proper disposal of handguns belonging to a deceased pistol permit holder.

The general rule in Onondaga County is that the person in possession of a decedent’s pistol must properly dispose of the pistol within 15 days; otherwise, it is to be surrendered to a law enforcement agency that then will hold the handgun for safekeeping up to two years. After two years the gun will be destroyed.

Sales of guns and ammunition

An executor must know that sales of guns in New York State require federal background checks unless the sale is to an immediate family member. There are also specific rules on the sale of ammunition and each seller of ammunition must be registered with the State Police. If you own a gun which would meet the definition of an assault weapon or a magazine with more than seven rounds, you should leave a detailed memo for your family to follow. You may wish to establish a relationship with a licensed gun dealer who will help your executor with the transfer of the guns or with a sale if circumstances require.

Information to be filed with Surrogate Court and Criminal Justice Service

The New York SAFE Act requires estate fiduciaries to file a firearms inventory with the Surrogate Court and also with the Division of Criminal Services in Albany. This inventory includes all firearms (pistol, revolver or sawed off shotgun), shotguns and rifles. This inventory will not be part of the public records available through the Surrogate Courts.

Action items:

1. Prepare a detailed inventory of guns owned and leave in a secure location.

2. Review your estate planning documents to confirm your guns will be disposed of as you wish.

3. Discuss all this information with your future executor.