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Mark Twain once famously noted that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  We’re all going to die someday, some of us sooner than others. Which is why it is important to prepare ahead of that eventuality by helping your loved ones identify and value your firearms collection.

Like all of us, I know a lot of guys who buy guns that their wives know nothing about. I know even more whose wives know about their guns in only a peripheral sense, but don’t really know much more than “There are a lot of guns in that safe.”

Just as men may not know how much used purses or jewelry might be worth, a lot of women aren’t up on firearm values. Heck, plenty of people — both men and women alike — remain uneasy around guns as they may not understand how to make them safe, much less adequately appraise their value.

Need an example of this? Each day, non-gun people “turn in” estate guns at police stations across America because they aren’t comfortable handling those icky things.

For a lot of families, ignorance of gun values is not power.  What’s more, plenty of folks don’t really know how to dispose of unwanted firearms in their deceased relative’s collection and not get fleeced – or worse – while doing so.

In some states, there is an additional urgency. In Illinois, for instance, if the spouse or executor of the will does not have a Firearms Owners ID card, then they have just sixty (60) days to either get a FOID card or dispose of all firearms and ammunition in order to comply with the law. And these days, it can take up to a year for the state to get around to issuing a FOID card.

If you have the misfortune of living in a state with regulations on owning or transferring firearms, you should consult local laws to stay within the law.

Make a list.

The single best thing you can do to help your family after your death – at least when it comes to your guns – is to make a list. And just like Santa, check it twice.

Include the make, model, serial number, approximate resale value, and any accessories that go with each firearm and their approximate respective value as a package. Take pictures of them, too (this is also a good idea for insurance purposes).

Gun safe collection guns
Dan Z. for TTAG

This also serves as a good opportunity to earmark certain firearms to go to certain individuals as appropriate.

For example:

GLOCK 19, Gen 3 with Trijicon night sights installed in 2018. 9mm Luger. Ser. 123GRT. Estimated value $450-$500. With about five spare GLOCK mags, estimated value about $15 each. I’d like this to go to my son Mark.

For others, it will be more complex.

Ruger Precision Rifle. 6.5 Creedmoor caliber. Serial No. 12345A. Estimated value about $1400. With Vortex Razor 5-20×50 scope (attached and sighted in) serial No. 6789X. Paid $1900 for scope. Estimated value at least $1200-ish. Rifle with scope, scope mount ($100), Harris bipod ($100), Timney trigger upgrade ($200), two spare magazines and misc. accessories, the rifle as is should bring at least $2800 as a package, or easily $3000 with the custom hand-loaded ammunition nearby in ammo cans. Don’t recommend breaking this up as you’ll never sell the small stuff.  

You could take a few minutes to compile the above information for your wife or kids now. Or you could get hit by a bus before getting around to it. Then your loved ones might have some unscrupulous person tell them how the rifle they have is nothing special (“Bolt action? Ewww! It’s not even a semi-auto!”) with a junk Chinese scope on top. “I’ll give you $500 for the whole thing and that’s being generous.”

Which scenario would you prefer?

Protect your family from theft. 

Do you have any black sheep of the family living nearby? Or even worse, drug addicts or bad neighbors who know you have a collection of guns? Remember, for some folks, a half-dozen or ten guns is an “arsenal” and desperate people do desperate things.

If you are anything close to a prolific gun owner and have theft concerns, advise your family to get the majority of your guns out of the house to someplace secure after your death.

Also, make sure they have one or more trusted friends, also with guns, at your residence to watch things during the visitation and funeral. Because bad guys, knowing that NRA Joe has a bunch of guns, would never target a house while his wife attends his funeral service, right?

DC police Guns gun wall red
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Actually, it’s so common that people have a name for it: obituary burglars.

From the New York Post:

Their loss was allegedly her gain.

A Bronx woman is accused of preying on the bereaved — allegedly looking up the obituaries of their loved ones online and then burglarizing the homes of the grieving family members while they were attending the funerals.

Latonia Shelecia Stewart, 26, was arraigned this week on a slew of charges connected to six different break-ins that were reported in Westchester between fall 2017 and spring 2018, according to prosecutors.

Her indictment says she targeted people who were attending their spouse’s wake or funeral service.

Also, having strangers come into the home of a widow to look over a guns she wants to sell is also an invitation for a robbery. Or a robbery homicide.  That’s a no-go for safety if potential buyers aren’t well-known and vetted.

How do you dispose of a collection following a death?

Ideally, you’ll have family members to whom you can pass down heirloom firearms and other pieces with sentimental value, along with ammo and accessories.

For the rest of your guns, you have options . . .

Options vary from your descendants selling the guns piecemeal, or taking them to an auction house. Or your heirs could simply selling the whole collection to a gun shop. All have their pros and cons.

One easy way to dispose of a collection, large or small, is to work with a local gun shop to sell them on consignment, locally and/or through on online auction service like GunBroker.

Yes, the gun shop will charge maybe 10-20% of the purchase price for the service, but the guns will be out of your house and in a secure location. Not only that, but the gun shop will handle all the paperwork.

The downside is that it may take time to sell them if they aren’t priced competitively — and most people think their guns are worth more than they really are. Another downside here is that most stores will want little to do with buying “used” ammunition, primers or powder, even if it’s in pristine condition in boxes.

Another option available for immediate transfer of the guns out of the house are large firearms auctions. For example, here in Central Illinois, Bauer Auctions in Mattoon has massive, hybrid online/in-person gun auctions four times each year. No doubt other states have similar sales.

They have experience at handling multi-hundred gun estates, so you won’t overwhelm them with a collection of 100 or even 500 firearms. They can also sell ammo, powder, reloading gear, accessories and so forth, too. They will charge a sliding scale fee depending on the sale price of the firearm, but it’s relatively low.

C.J. Hurst of West Covina, Calif., poses with his collection of about 600 antique guns, Aug. 21, 1952. He holds up a .44 caliber rim fire Model 66 Winchester rifle. (AP Photo/Don Brinn)

Depending on when you get the guns to them (or they come get them), it may take a few months before there’s a sale, and you’ll then get paid in the weeks following the sale. Remember, they can and will sell stuff like ammo, gun safes and reloading gear at auctions. If your heirs aren’t in a hurry to cash out a large collection, that’s probably going to net you the most dollars for your guns with a minimal amount of work on your end.

For high end collections, there are always auctioneers like the world famous Rock Island Auction.

In a hurry? Yes, there’s a way to do that as well. Call nearby gun shops and ask if they’ll come out and make an offer for the entire collection. Expect to receive about 60% of the wholesale price for guns in good shape, and less for poorer quality specimens. That will translate to about 40-50% of current market prices. You may get 10% more for highly sought-after collectibles. You get the money instantly, but you’ll pay (dearly) for the urgency.

Lastly, you can always advertise the firearms for sale to private parties. For a handful of guns, that’s no big deal. Trying to sell a hundred guns? That would become almost a full-time job dealing with the tire-kickers and low-ball artists.

Do your loved ones a big favor and make the process easy on them. Inventory your guns and accessories, include approximate pricing information and recommendations as to how to dispose of the guns that aren’t family heirlooms or sentimental. And while you’re at it, make sure you earmark who gets what if you want specific people to get certain firearms.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. I live in a country where you need a firearm permit and registration, and the permit is just for sporting purposes.
    But I must say that the Police are quite symphatetic with gun collectors, so at the local office, together with the file of my refgistered firearms, they are keeping a letter from me with the instructions on how all my toys are to be given to a friend of mine who is a Police officer from another district and a gun collector himself, for the subsequent management in the time that my offsprings will require to get a firearm permit.
    Only thing that I gave isntructions to sell is a left handed bolt action, since none of my heirs is a southpaw.

    • Let one of your right handed family members shoot a left handed gun. We left-handed people shoot regular guns all the time.😄

  2. Article didn’t address NFA items, which undoubtedly require special designation, handling, record keeping and transfer documents. Transferring a machine gun improperly left in estate may create a jail sentence for spouse or recipient or executor or all three.

      • John, could you forward a request to attorney LKB to pen something for a helpful TTAG article?

      • As suggested, make a gun trust with all guns it it. Make an amendment to the trust adding your family members…..sign, notarize, seal in envelope to be opened post death, and leave with lawyer or trusted friend. When you pass the previously undiscovered amendment comes out and the discovered trustees have legal access, not ownership, to the guns.

    • It’s very easy to inherit NFA items . There is no $200 fee to inherit, it’s free.
      If you have a trust, then the other people in the trust who are still alive after you die can just continue to use the items and have them in their possession.
      If you owned them as an individual, then the executor of your will is allowed to hold onto the silencers, sbr’s and machine guns as long as it takes to complete the process.
      The executor is not allowed to take them out and shoot them. They are just legally allowed to have them under their control in storage .
      The executor fills out an ATF form 5 to transfer the property to the inheritor.
      Form fives get approved much faster than the other types of forms.
      What is the executor has the form five back from the ATF, they can give the inheritor the short barreled shotgun (or whatever)

  3. , make a list n all that sht. MAN!!
    We know who getsm and who gets what.
    Make ,model,serial number, -“they” -wish.
    Guess I got different family?

  4. I helped a family sell off the firearms of a family member after he passed. When I came to the house of the family member that had loaded them into his minivan, the first thing I did was safety check each one. He turned white when I unloaded a Colt .45 that had been sitting in a box right behind his seat.

  5. California does not require a background check for in-state intrafamilial transfers, so as long as my son stays here he can take them without so much as a howdy do. (But he does have to register his ownership of the various items.) My daughter will have to do transfers in Ohio (unless they surreptitiously leave the state in the trunk of a car). The two of them get the lot, and they get to bicker over who gets what. But there is plenty to go around. My wife will want none of them. If I predecease my wife, there will be no probate, so no need to value any of them. The kids, but they are not worth that much to begin with will probably sell my black powder pistols.

    • “My daughter will have to do transfers in Ohio…”

      Is this because you are presuming they will be shipped to your daughter in Ohio by your wife? If daughter flies out for your funeral, she should be able to pack them up and ship them to herself in Ohio without having to transfer them, or perhaps even pack them on the plane (per airline policy). Or, is there something in CA law that requires a transfer because she lives out of state?

      BTW, hoping this is hypothetical, although something is inevitable…

      • There is something in California law AND federal law about intrafamilial transfers between nonresident relatives, and she is not a resident.

  6. If you live in a gun-hating state, just make sure you never die, because when you die, the state will either just take the guns (if you’re lucky), or arrest your descendants for illegal possession of firearms without an FOID / FPID card and then take the guns.

    On a related question, what do you do if you’re moving to another state and you have several gun safes filled with guns, too many to fit in your car? Will the moving company just put your safes in the truck with no questions asked? Or (more likely), are you required to tell them the contents of the safes, at which point if you live in a gun-hating state, they’re going to say, “Ewww, guns are icky and scary, and we refuse to do business with anyone who owns guns. Good luck moving your entire house full of stuff on your own!”

    (I don’t currently own too many guns to fit in the car, but owning too many to fit is one of my life goals, LOL. Also, my gun safe won’t fit in the car, so the moving company would have to move that, whether it’s empty or full)

    • The moving company should have no access to the contents of the safe(s), and then there is no problem, then it is the same as putting a gun in baggage on a plane train or bus.

    • I’d never trust my guns to a mover. You would be better off to case them all up and rent a van so you can move them yourself. If you don’t have enough cases you could wrap multiple long guns in a moving blanket and tie the ends or slide them into a wardrobe box.

      Safes aren’t made to transport guns. Unless you could fit them in the safe while they were all in decent cases they would all get pretty banged up.

    • Duh….always move your own safe. What do you think the movers are guessing you keep in the safe they move……..your comic book collection??? Great way to get your house marked for future burglary.

  7. What’s that old saying,,,,,,,,”My worse fear is that when I die, my wife will sell all my guns for what I told her I paid for them….” I worried about that so much….I out lived her…. Now my new lady friend is hoping they are worth more than I paid for them. women….. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • I can imagine the fun potential buyers would have when my wife tries to sell my LWRC “it’s just another AR. I bought it for 650 because they had it on sale” rifle with a “no name red-dot from wally” with a fake “Trijicon” logo…
      At the moment I’m too afraid to tell her the real value of my guns because she shoots better than me. This article may just have the right solution with a comprehensive list with pricing.

  8. I also have no one to inherit my collection. I have a sister in CA who is a Leftie and knows NOTHING about guns. She has the combination to the safe. Inside is a folder of NFA tax stamps and the business card of a good friend and SOT who will dispose of the items for her. We have talked about what to with my passing and I go over the directions with her every few years. For her the disposition of my firearms will be absolutely painless as she never has to touch them and will have money coming in as they are sold.

    • What a shame……..proceeds from guns going to a Lefty in California. Money will go to Socialist contributions and taxes. Shaking head, rolling eyes. Give them to young Conservatives where they will do some good.

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