Beretta M1938 submachine gun
Previous Post
Next Post

I had an interesting week at work last week, and I hate interesting weeks sometimes. This is one of those times. I received a message on the store answering machine from someone who started off rather grimly.

The message went, “Hey, this is Rob. Steve was my brother — can you give me a call back?” I didn’t like where that was going. So the first free moment I could, I gave Rob a call back and his tone was somber and I had a hunch I knew what was coming.

Steve was a fellow who’d been buying guns from me for more than 10 years. He liked playing with guns and motorcycles and was always trading one for the other. And he had died unexpectedly. He left a lot of small and large projects unfinished when he passed away.

The primary reason that Rob called me was he wanted to know if I had any idea where a few of his brother’s guns were. There were two storage units, and a garage filled with junk. Their family apparently has a hereditary hoarding gene and the Rob was looking everywhere for his brother’s stuff and couldn’t chase all of it down.

While I couldn’t help him with that, he had another question. He had no idea how to handle any of his late brother’s NFA-regulated stuff. I explained to him that once he rounds everything up, he can file ATF Form 5 and they’ll take care of a tax-free transfer to a lawful heir.

Rob wasn’t a big gun guy but he knew that his late brother enjoyed taking his niece out to do some plinking with a suppressed 10/22 (who wouldn’t?) and it was important to him that she be able to keep doing that. I truly hope that getting his brother’s gun collection rounded up doesn’t prove to be too difficult a task and they locate all the gear.

I checked our layaway and our pending NFA forms queue and didn’t see anything with Steve’s name on it so it was all in the clear in that department.

One NFA-specific problem is mention is that there are a few items with tax stamps that Rob knew Steve owned, but hasn’t been able to locate everything. And there’s probably more that he doesn’t know about.

This presents a unique issue because if you don’t have control over something that’s regulated under Title II, you’re obligated to immediately report this to ATF. How is Rob supposed to know everything his brother owned to begin with, and how do we know what may be missing? 

There’s a cautionary tale here for all of us. We’re gun owners. That mean’s we’re probably paranoid, pessimistic and cynical. Hell, that’s why we own guns. One thing we hear about from the preppers is making sure we have a plan, and making sure that Plan B exists because Plan A won’t survive first contact. They weren’t kidding.

We all should have a plan for what to do with our firearms when we die. Laws for transferring ownership of your firearms, including the necessity of a background check can vary depending on the type of gun(s) and the state where the decedent last resided. So the answer could be a will, a trust, or a rich leather-bound portfolio that smells of mahogany, like my friend Ray has, that details every firearm he owns and how it’s to be distributed after his death (Ray has three kids and none of them get along with each other).

Knowing the law in the resident state will help an executor or the family members we leave behind to clean up our mess when we’re gone. But so will a simple organizational tool like a spiral-bound notebook. Help your heirs know where things are, who they should go to and maybe some ballpark values.

On the other side of the coin, I got a similar call from one of my neighbors. Someone had asked if anyone knew anything about guns and my name was suggested. After a long battle with cancer, Vinny’s dad had died and he left behind a big Italian family and a big Italian gun collection to boot.

Vinny asked if I could head over and help them out, and since the house was just a few blocks over I stopped by. I walked in and it was like stepping into the film “Goodfellas.”

It was a big Italian family, all drinking Chianti and eating and telling tall tales of the dearly departed. But in this case there was a will, an organized list of firearms detailing who was getting what, an insurance rider on the collection…everything was inventoried — right down to the choke tubes.

Unlike Steve, Vinny’s family was fanatical about keeping good records, and in a time like that, it really paid off. I told them they looked like they were in a good place. What did they need me for? 

They asked me to sit down, have a glass of wine and eat some lasagna as thanks for coming out. Vinny’s father used to own an Italian restaurant and the garlic bread smelled divine. Who was I to argue with tradition?

I heard a commotion coming from the garage. Vinny was coming into the house holding something. It was an old burlap sack with a perforated heat shield sticking out. He handed it to me and asked me if I knew what it was.

In the sack was an old Beretta Model 1938 submachinegun! I’d never actually seen one of these before. I explained to him briefly about how the laws work in the United States — the laws governing his father’s Beretta 686 are a little different than those governing this MG.

I asked them if they had any of the paperwork for the Beretta and sure enough, there was a little folder with the will that had the original amnesty registration paperwork. It was all there.

I explained that they needed to file a Form 5 and the ATF would then do a tax-free registration change to the heir. (Remember: Possession of the firearm registered to someone else can lead to a felony or misdemeanor charge. You must do the transfer.)

They were concerned that there’d be some kind of hidden estate tax or something with the police department because it involved the government, but I told them there’s no tax on a transfer when someone dies and the gun ownership passes to a lawful heir.

Just file some forms with your favorite FFL and the ATF would call if they needed anything. They’re actually remarkably flexible in situations like this if you give them a call and tell them what’s going on.

Vinny’s situation is what we should all be shooting for. A big family where everyone gets along, a well-documented estate and although they didn’t know exactly what they had, all their paperwork was together and they knew when to ask for help.

That one important document for the Beretta makes a huge difference in getting the registration changed over, and it’s an amazing part of history to boot. It doesn’t take much effort for your heirs to have the best possible scenario over a situation like Rob was dealing with (handguns stuffed in the floorboards, no idea where things are and no clue on their value/legality/etc). 

Vinny’s family had a plan and it paid off. Someone went to a lot of effort to make sure that their loved ones weren’t burdened with even more agita in their time of sorrow.

We can all learn a lot from these two departed gun nuts. It’s a great lesson to make sure we have a cohesive plan for our guns from both a practical, who-gets-what standpoint as well as how to deal with the inevitable unique legal challenges that the National Firearms Act has created. 

Things to remember in estate planning:

  • Fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, and silencers are NFA items and must have serial numbers and must be registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Under federal law, unregistered NFA weapons can not be registered after the owner’s death and must be “abandoned,” i.e. turned over to law enforcement. 
  • Long guns such as hunting rifles, and shotguns, and revolvers and semi-automatic pistols can be distributed to inheriting heirs through an FFL/firearms dealer after required background checks have been run (which means you can not bequeath your firearms to felons).

In short, don’t be a Steve.

Hank is a federal firearms licensee with 12 years of experience in the business. 

More information:

Transfers of National Firearms Act Firearms in Decedents’ Estates –

Form 5 (Transfer of Firearms)-










Previous Post
Next Post


  1. We really don’t want the wife selling your collection of firearms for the price you told her you paid. Either the wife or kids just dump them or they want way too much for them. I like vest pocket pistols fro before WWII. You wouldn’t believe what some families think they are worth.
    I like .25 ACPs because they are small and some of the old pocket pistols are beautiful and not too expensive. But just like that 1976 Plymouth Satellite that has been on blocks for 25 years, the family thinks it is worth a fortune.

    • In my younger days a widow in the local area came home from her husbands funeral and just ‘wanted to get rid of those awful’ guns.

      She had a yard sale and sold them all for pennies on the dollar cause’gunz’. By the time I got there only a few were left. I got a French 1873 issue revolver and leather flap holster for 35 bucks cause she wanted the evil things out of her life.

      Hope she lived long enough to regret her financial foolishness.

    • “We really don’t want the wife selling your collection of firearms for the price you told her you paid.”

      It isn’t just guns.

      Tools are another biggie, high-end audio gear, etc, etc…

  2. I don’t own any firearms. I gave them all to my minor daughter and nephew. I’m just holding on to them for now. There’s a very detailed letter, both signed and witnessed in my safe.

  3. Reserve one of those coffin cubbies (the ones where they slide the coffin in the wall), get cremated, fill the coffin with guns/ammo/mags, have my ashes scattered at the location of my choosing, and leave a note in my will saying if they need guns, they’re there. Got the idea from the Third Terminator.

  4. Excellent article. I don’t own a ton of guns, but it’s not nothing. That, and quite a bit of ammo. Need to inventory it, write it all down, and start specifying things. I’m 63, in good health, might live a good long while. And as we all know as the years pass and friends and family die, often younger than us, our moment can be at any time.

    Thanks for writing this. Really valuable.

  5. A friend of mine Died back in 2002 and had a Collection of Presentation Firearms that Automobile Dealer would get for Top Sales of the Year. All of which were from Automotive Dealerships that the Dealers didn’t want and gave to him because of 50-years of Loyalty of being a Valued Customer. When he died, none of the Surviving Family Members wanted them, because of his estranged relationship with his family. So for some strange reason only knownst to him, I got the firearms instead. Even though we weren’t exactly Close or Related too each other…

  6. I told my firearms what to do when I die.

    Avenge Me! Avenge Me! Wolverines!

    But I’m not sure if the foreign guns understand English.

      • Me, too. (Or is that #MeToo?)

        FirearmsConcierge didn’t bother me as much as he seemed to bother most people (he was interesting in a dickhead sort of way), but I really like the idea of having a friendly, helpful guy around.

  7. This is a great article. It reminds me that *I* have to do this! (It’s been on my “to do” list somewhere before the last line item — dying). Thanks for writing it.

  8. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Vinnie’s dad knew about the amnesty before it was over.

    How many gun owners knew about it in time 50 years ago?
    Was it well publicized in TV/daily/weekly news, other than stuff like the Shotgun News?

  9. A co worker was dying of cancer and asked for my SS, address and phone number. He intended to leave me 3 guns. I haven’t heard anything and it’s been six months.

    I’m going to inquire about his will and the status of his estate. His family didn t but he didn’t want to.leave.them.his guns. I’m looking at 2 1911 GI guns and a M1 Garand.

    It can take a while to clear an estate. The executor is supposed to work on the will but many take their time. I need to get in touch with them.

  10. I keep all of my guns in the safes. If I kick off early, it’s easy to find them all. The parts and projects are in MTM ammo crates and marked with what is inside. I would hope I live a good 50 years or more, but you never know. While I can be a little undisciplined and leave stuff scattered around, I work to keep it all straight. The NFA items are still in NFA jail, so nobody has to worry about those for now. The harder part will be all of the tools and car parts. You can liquidate guns and parts fairly quickly. Some car parts I can’t give away, but I won’t toss them because somebody may need them someday.

  11. My great grandfathers shotgun that has been going to the oldest son (Dad’s brother had all girls so I got it) is specifically listed in my will with who it goes to.

    For the rest there is a list as an appendix to the will with serial number, approx value and if inherited who from. Haven’t listed ammunition, reloading equipment etc but probably should. Real value is important there if you don’t want your family ripped off in a sale.

  12. Other than a bunch of “just guns”, I have an SBR and suppressor, which I suspect will be decontrolled within my lifetime, but my wife and both kids are on the NFA paperwork and know the gun well. Everything is in my safe, family knows the combination, I expect if I croaked tomorrow no notice to the government would be necessary, leave them in the dark.

    • I hope that they will deregulated.

      My wife is alt trustee with my boys as the beneficiaries. SBRs and cans. Always bought it two knowing that they’d be getting them some day. Already on paper who gets which and how many and which cans to each with instructions on how to do the transfer once they can receive them.

  13. Dealing with something related right now.. mom worked part-time at an antique shop for 20 years & never got a paycheck with a positive number on it, she spent it on antiques. Old Jewelry, purses, rare glassware and China. No one in the family knows what it’s worth or where to dispose of it at anything but garage sale pricing. And mom has Alzheimer’s, so she can’t tell us.

    Do your family a favor & spend a Saturday making a list so your good stuff doesn’t get given away as crap.

  14. My son knows all about my firearms and guitars, and he is the executor of my estate. I use the two tier system for access: Find the first item which gives you access to the second item, and the second item gives you access to the third and final item. He is aware of the locations of the first, second and third items.

    The records in the third location have details such as serial numbers, date purchased, price paid, accessories included, and history.

    That’s about as secure as I can make it, and I pray to God that he does not pre-decease me. If he does I’m going to sell everything and give TF up!


  15. I did this some time back. My daughter who was raised right and therefore a shooter, knows where everything is; keys, combos, all paperwork associated with purchases, etc. All firearms are inventoried but not the ammo, I only have so much time on my hands. Anything she doesn’t want goes to my brother-in-law, a good ole boy who lives in FL.

    • Heh. I broke down last year and inventoried all the ammo.

      That was a PITA. But a bigger PITA is keeping it updated. 😉

  16. a bit confusing…form 3’s?..form 4’s?…does the tax have to paid?…local laws?..,crossing state lines?….obviously i’m going to have to do some research on this….

  17. Thanks for this article. I’ve just recently done a spreadsheet inventory. With that I realized that since there is more sand at the bottom of my hourglass than there is in the top, I’d better make a list of who gets what and that includes my reloading equipment. Now that’s gonna get complicated when I also consider all my hand tools. I’ve got more work to do then I thought. Getting old is definitely a PIA.

    • Arteest, I’m with you on the hourglass. Quite a good analogy. While getting old has its problems, we’ve been fortunate to get old … 🙂


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here