What Happens to Firearms When People Die?

Losing a loved one puts people through many difficult tasks, including the emotional labor of grieving their loss and the work involved in settling their estate. Hopefully, the person who passed away had a will that helps direct their loved ones on how to carry out their final wishes.

One aspect of settling a deceased person’s affairs involves distributing their possessions to people they’ve designated to receive them. An individual can leave nearly any possession to another person in their will, and one thing people pass along is their firearms.

Firearms are expensive and sometimes prized possessions that many people wish to give to a loved one upon the event of their death. Other times, family members unknowingly find firearms among their loved one’s possessions.

In any instance, firearms need to be handled with legal care when their owner dies. Laws are in place to ensure the safe transfer of firearms, and it’s important to know what to do when dealing with such regulated items.

What firearms are subject to the law?

It’s not uncommon for people to collect antique firearms, and for firearms to be passed down in families. These items carry a sentimental and monetary value that makes them desirable to many people.

Depending on the age and condition of the firearm in question, it may be subject to laws regarding its transfer via sale or inheritance. Usually, an active firearm is considered one that is able to fire, regardless of the gun’s age or condition. Active firearms carry with them legal responsibilities regarding their transfer.

Guns that have been modified to render them unable to fire, such as by removing the firing pin or welding the barrel shut, may no longer be considered active firearms. These often can be transferred in a will like any other non-regulated item, without legal concern.

If you have a family heirloom or antique firearm that you’re considering leaving to someone in your will, it’s important to legally evaluate your responsibility as a gun owner and your obligation under the law.

Putting firearms in your will

Arranging a way to pass along firearms to a loved one when you die doesn’t require much, other than clear plans and directives. It starts with keeping a good record of your firearms to reflect the brand, type and a serial number of each. While these details might be obvious to you, records will help the executor of your will to sort them out.

In order to inherit one or more of your firearms, the designated recipient must have a valid firearms owners identification (FOID) card. Regardless of whether they intend to actively use the firearms, the FOID card allows the person to legally possess and own them. An applicant must meet a number of qualifications to be granted a FOID card in the state of Illinois.

If firearms are going to travel over state lines via inheritance, the recipient must comply with all relevant laws governing the state in which they live.

Not everyone decides to transfer their firearms to a loved one through their will. There may be no viable recipient with a FOID card, or perhaps no one is interested in owning the firearms. In this case, a person can indicate in their will that their firearms should be sold or given to a licensed gun dealer upon their death.

For more information on leaving a firearm in your estate plan, we encourage you to listen to this video with RNH Law:

We’re Here to Help

If you have family law or estate planning questions, our caring team would be honored to assist you. Please call Sterk Family Law Group, P.C. or contact us to speak with one of our caring legal team members or to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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