NFA Gun Trusts – Complete Guide

by Ryan Cleckner

September 27, 2021

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If you’re looking into purchasing an NFA Firearm, like a silencer/suppressor, short barreled rifle, and more, then you’ve likely heard about NFA Gun Trusts and might be wondering if such a firearms trust is right for you and, if so, how to set up your gun trust properly.

If that’s you, you’re in luck because we’re going to cover everything you need to know about NFA trusts, help you decide if they’re right for you, show you our favorite NFA trust, and even give you all the background info that you never knew you wanted about the ATF and trusts.

Quick Summary: NFA Gun Trusts aren’t for everybody. In fact, becuase of ATF rule changes, firearm trusts are not near as popular as they used to be. However, there’s still a chance that an NFA trust is right for you depending on your situation and needs.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

If you already generally know what an NFA trust is and you’re just looking to see if you should use one for your next NFA firearm purchase, you can continue on in this article.

However, if you’re not even sure what an NFA firearm is, you might want to jumpo down to our background section first to learn the basics.

After searching online about trusts becuase you’re looking to purcahse your next NFA firearm and finding this article, the first question you’re likely to ask is “Is an NFA trust right for me?”

First, great question.

Second, I have no idea.

Why do I not know if a trust is right for you? Because nowadays trusts are typically a good idea only for people in a particular situation.

Previously, if you wanted an NFA weapon (a silencer / suppressor, short barreled rifle, and a machine gun are all examples of an NFA item) getting an NFA trust was a good idea for most people. Heck, I even have one.

However, the ATF recently changed the rules (more on this below), and a standard NFA Gun Trust is no longer the go-to option for most firearms owners like they used to be. However, there’s a new/unique type of trust that has really caught our interest – so much so that we’ll be using it for our NFA purchases going forward. We cover this trust below in the section on Best NFA Gun Trusts.

Who is an NFA Trust For?

An NFA Gun Trust is perfect for you if you want to share possession of any firearm (not just an NFA or title II firearm) with other people – even in other states.

That’s it.

Previously, a trust document was a tool that allowed someone to add a firearm to their gun collection without the requirement of a signature from their Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO).

However, now that the rules have changed, a trust only allows lawful possession by more than one person (spouse, friends, relatives, etc.).

Unfortuantely, even having access to the NFA firearm can be viewed as “constructive possession” and may be a legal problem. For example, if you have the NFA item registered in your name only (no trust) and you’re away from the house and your spouse can access or possess the firearm, the ATF could make the argument that they have possession of the NFA firearm and because it’s not registered to them, they are breaking the law.

This is unless, of course, you have an NFA trust and that NFA item and both of you are in the trust.

Also, if your buddy is visiting from another state and you go to the shooting range together, he can hold and use the NFA firearm as long as you’re there with him. But, unless he is in a trust with you for that particular firearm, you can’t ship it to him to borrow.

Who is an NFA Trust NOT For

If you have no desire to share NFA guns with other people, then don’t get a trust!

As we mentioned above (and we’ll explore more below), there used to be specific legal beneifits to getting a trust. In fact, without one, people in certain counties couldn’t posess things like a short barreled rifle (SBR) or a short barreled shotgun (SBS) because of the CLEO requirement.

A regular NFA trust is NOT a good thing to get “just because.” If you set up a regular NFA trust, you will have some paperwork to manage and EVERY time a firearm is added as trust property, EACH person on the trust will need to be fingerprinted and fill out paperwork.

That can be a real pain (e.g. NOT a benefit). However, that only needs to happen when you add new items to the existing trust.

Silencer Shop came up with a very creative workaround to this problem: the Single Shot NFA Gun Trust wherein you make a new trust for every NFA item so the same people aren’t necessarily added to every firearm. It’s super simple and fast – we cover it in more detail below.

If you want to legally share NFA firearms with others, then a trust may be worth it. However, if that’s really not that practical of an idea for you to share gun ownership (possession) with others, then the burden to get that tax stamp is likely too much.

It’s your call – and you really won’t go wrong either way as long as you decide what’s best for you and whether others might have access to your NFA firearm.

Best NFA Gun Trust

Ok, you’ve decided that a gun trust is for you but don’t know the best way to get one (or even how to get a trust)?

It’s not that hard – you can either hire an attorney to draft a custom one for you (expensive… I should know, I’m a firearms attorney) OR you can make use of a NFA trust package.

I’ll just assume that you’ll use an NFA trust package because they’re so simple and we’ll list the BEST trust for NFA Firearms…

#1 – Silencer Shop’s Single Shot Trust (Editor’s Choice)

The Single Shot Trust from Silencer Shop is, far and away, our favorite NFA trust.

What makes it so great?

It is a completely unique system (not a regular NFA trust) that is simple, fast, and it removes the burdens normally associated with an NFA trust. In fact, until I knew about the Single Shot trust, my advice to anyone asking about getting one after the ATF rule change was – “don’t get one.”

Now, my advice is, “Go get a Single Shot Trust – it’s a no brainer.”

The Single Shot NFA Trust is, as the name implies, used only once per NFA firearm. That’s right, each NFA item has it’s own trust (they actually use the item’s serial number as the trust’s name).

This might sound like a hassle but it’s beautifully simple. This way, if you want to purchase a silencer to share possession with a spouse and two good friends, you get a single shot trust and include all four of you on it. However, when you want to purchase an SBR just for you and your spouse, you get a single shot trust with just you two on it (for now – you could always add someone later).

This solves the hassle of a regular NFA trust where your two buddies would have to go get fingerprinted and be part of the application for your SBR if it were to go into a regular NFA trust with the first silencer.

Now, because I have my own home-based FFL, I just have the NFA Firearms shipped straight to me with only a couple day wait. But, if you are considering purchasing an NFA firearm and want a trust, there is NO REASON to no just get a Single Shot Trust for each NFA item and make it simple for you.

#2 – National Gun Trust’s NFA Trust (Best Regular Trust)

If using a new trust for each NFA firearm (above) is not for you and you’d like to have a standard NFA trust wherein you can add and remove people and firearms whenever you wish, then we recommend using National Gun Trust’s NFA trust.

We recommend National Gun Trusts because they are great to work with and have a ton of experience with trusts.

So, why would you get a normal trust when I just explained the benefits of option #1 above?

Well, a gun trust doesn’t have to just be for NFA Firearms! If you’re getting a trust as part of an estate planning process or to help protect your assets, then the National Gun Trust option might be for you. This is because you can use it for your NFA Firearms AND add any other firearms you’d like to be protected by the trust.

They also help with paperwork generators/tools to help with your applications and they even have a process to allow you to add people to the trust on a short term basis – this allows a friend to get the benefit of being in your trust to borrow something but not the hassle when you want to buy more things next year.

Of course, there are some alternatives to getting a trust altogether – one option is just to have the NFA item transferred to you as an indiviudal and avoid the sharing concept althogether.

However the other option avoids using a trust and gives you a LOT more benefits: getting your own FFL. With your own FFL you can get firearms cheaper, faster, and you can make side- money (or a full gun business) selling firearms and charging for transfers.

Firearms Trust Alternatives

Contrary to what some believe, an NFA Gun Trust is NOT required to legally possess an NFA firearm.

Instead, it is simply a legal tool that allows the trust to take possession of the NFA weapon and thereby allows everyone in the trust to legally possess it.

There are two main alternatives to a firearm trust:

Individual Transfers

The first alternative is to have the regulated firearm transferred directly to you – this is how most people purchase NFA firearms.

The process to get the NFA item is effectively the same: you stil need to fill out the ATF form 4, get fingerprints, and pay a tax before you’re approved and recieve your tax stamp back from the ATF.

The difference with an individual transfer is that the ATF Form is filed out in YOUR name and only you are allowed to have lawfl possession of the firearm.

Now, this does not mean other people can’t shoot or use your NFA firearm. You are allowed to let anyone who’s legally allowed to posess a firearm use your NFA item as long as you are present as well – you can’t let someone take control of the NFA firearm if it isn’t registered to them (or even technically allow them to have access to it).

Getting an FFL

The second alternative is to get your own Federal Firearms License (FFL).

By getting an FFL (even from your home), you are able to get firearms at dealer pricing and you can mak emoney selling those firearms or even just charging for transfers.

It’s even better when it comes to NFA firearms: you’re looking at many months to get a tax stamp from the ATF (the approval you need to possess the NFA item) whether you apply as an individual or you use a firearm trust. However, with an FFL, you get NFA weapons in 1 or 2 days (at a discount!).

Getting an FFL is not as hard as you think – we break the process down here: How to Get an FFL

NFA Trust Background

If you’re new to this whole process, we’re going to break-down NFA firearms and the laws and rules surrounding them and NFA trusts here.

What are NFA Firearms?

Let’s start with the basics.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) regulated a special class of firearms and required prior approval from the ATF and a federal tax paid before they could be possessed.

These NFA firearms are sometimes called a Title II Firearm as the NFA is considered to be “Title II” of our federal firearms laws. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), although it came about 34 years later, is considered to be “Title I.”

These NFA items are:

  • Silencers (Suppressors),
  • Machine Guns (fully automatic firearms),
  • Short Barreled Rifles (SBR) (rifles with a barrel lenght less than 16″ or an overal length less than 26″)
  • Short Barreled Shotguns (SBS) (shotguns with a barrel length less than 18″ or an overall length less than 26″)
  • Any Other Weapons (AOW) (yes, this is a real category and it inlcudes things like pen guns)
  • Destructive Devices (DD) (grenades, bombs, etc.)

Standard (non trust) NFA Transfers

If you want to legally posses an NFA item, you must apply to the ATF on a Form 4 (there are different Forms for FFLs that are MUCH faster), include fingerprints and photos, and a check for $200 for all NFA wepaons but AOWs – they’re only a $5 tax.

Once the ATF runs a background check and approves the transfer, you’ll receive a copy of the Form 4 back with a stamp on it showing that the form is approved – this is the “Tax Stamp” that allows the person/entity on the Form to lawfully possess the NFA firearm.

If a NFA trust was used and is the approved applicant on the form, then anyone in the trust may lawfuly possess the NFA item. Although the trust is the firearms owner, the people in the trust are allowed possession.

What are NFA Trusts?

NFA gun trusts are a revocable trust (they can be modified) wherein the trust property is made up for NFA Firearms and people that are part of the trust can all share possession of the NFA items.

A revocable gun trust (NFA Trust) is a legal entity that can be part of an estate plan but is typically used as a method to allowed shared possession of a Title II Weapon. An unfortunate part of being a gun owner is how it may be difficult for our heirs/assigns to manage our firearms after we’re gone. By using a trust, you can avoid probate wherein a court gets involved as you never really owned the firearms yourself – the trust still owns them even after you’re gone so there’s no transfer.

An NFA Gun Trust is created and then it, not you, purchases and/or owns the NFA firearms.  Once they are in the trust as trustees, they can each possess the NFA Firearm legally.

NFA Trust Terminology

Let’s cover some basic NFA Trust terminology. For more detailed explanations, check out National Gun Trusts or Legal Zoom’s Basic Trust Terminology.

Trustee

The trustee(s) of a trust are the people that are able to take possession of and use the NFA Firearms. These are the people “on the trust” and together are called co-trustees.

Successor Trustee

The successor trustee is the person, or persons, who shall be in charge of the trust after all of the trustees and the settlor are gone.

Settlor

The settler of a trust is the person that makes the gun trust (likely you).

Grantor

A grantor is just another name for Settlor.

Trustor

A truster is just another name for Grantor or Settler. See why lawyers make so much money? ????

Trust Administration

Trust administration refers to the managing of the trust and affairs.

ATF Rule Changes for NFA Gun Trusts

Previously, the local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) needed to sign and approve the Form 4 application for NFA firearms.

This old gun trust rule was meant as a method to check with local law enforcement about the suitability of a person to have these types of federally regulated firearms. A long time ago, the local sheriff was likely to know about a problem person more than the federal government would.

The problem this caused is that one CLEO who happens to be anti-gun could (and in plenty of cases, did) effectively ban NFA items in their jurisdiction by refusing to sign the Form 4 for the ATF.

The way around this was to create a NFA Gun Trust because no CLEO signature was required.

However, the ATF has since changed the rules (See ATF’s Rule 41f) and no longer requires CLEO approval so much of the demand for gun trusts went away. Also, every trustee on a trust go through the process (fingerprints and so on) each time anyone wants to add an NFa firearm to the trust.

By removing the need in many cases and making it a bit more burdensome, the ATF has made NFA Gun Trusts fairly rare.

However, they clearly still have benefits for married couples and people who want to share their NFA Firearms with other people (children, friends, etc).

Gun Trust FAQ

Q: Is a NFA Gun Trust only part of the estate planning or probate avoidance process?

A: No – a NFA Gun Trust can be those things, however they are most commonly used to allow multiple individuals to legally possess and control NFA Firearms.

Q: Is a gun trust required to purchase a Title II Firearm?

A: No – a gun trust is beneficial in certain situations but it is not required.

Q: What is the best NFA gun trust?

A: If you’re looking for simplicity, then the Single Shot Trust is the best NFA trust. However, if you’re looking for flexibility and some other features, then the National Gun Trust option is best.

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About Ryan Cleckner

Ryan is a former special operations sniper (1/75 Ranger) and current firearms attorney, firearms industry executive, university lecturer, and bestselling author of the Long Range Shooting Handbook.

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