What to do with the guns of a deceased relative

Last Will and Testament concept. Fountain pen, seal on desk

Last Will and Testament concept. Fountain pen, seal on desk - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Working out what to do with the guns of a deceased relative can add stress to an already traumatic situation. Nick Playford of mfg solicitors offers advice

Q: My father-in-law died recently and my mother-in-law doesn't know what to do with his shotguns as she was not named on his certificate. Should she call the police to take them away, or can she legally sell them to someone with a shotgun certificate?

NICK PLAYFORD replies with input from his colleague, experienced wills and probate solicitor William Rowe: Guidance from most police force websites states that if a certificate holder has passed away, the firearms licensing department of the police force that issued the deceased's certificate requires written notification from the executors that the deceased has died, together with the deceased's original shotgun certificate.

If the executors are left with shotguns or firearms, they have the following three options:

* Apply for a temporary permit: An executor should promptly request a permit from the firearms licensing unit under Section 7 of the Firearms Act 1968 to allow lawful access to the weapons in order to give them time to decide the best means of disposal. A temporary permit would be issued, which would be restricted to possession only (not use) and be valid for a limited period of time. This is usually three months.

* Registered firearms dealer: An executor may arrange for the weapons to be placed with a registered firearms dealer for storage or sale. It is important to notify the firearms licensing unit as soon as possible if this route is taken.

* Alternative certificate holder: You can transfer them to another certificate holder. This would depend on the certificate holder having sufficient storage and, in the case of guns that had been held on a firearms certificate, the authority to acquire that particular type of weapon.

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The death of a loved one can be a particularly stressful and upsetting time. It is, therefore, always a good idea to give a little thought if the worst should happen, and to take steps to get your affairs in order. This is particularly true in the case of firearms licensing, due to the strict regulations placed on certificate holders.

The case of Regina v Chelmsford Crown Court, Ex Parte Farrer (2000) provides some further insight, which may come as some surprise to Sporting Shooter readers.

In summary, Mr Farrer, a shotgun holder, was not at home for a routine visit from the local firearms officer. Mr Farrer's mother offered to open his gun cabinet for inspection. On hearing this, the chief constable revoked Mr Farrer's shotgun licence as he had allowed his mother - a person holding no shotgun certificate - access to his shotgun. The Crown Court upheld the decision, concluding that Mr Farrer was in breach of the terms of his shotgun certificate by virtue of "not having it stored securely so as to prevent, as far as reasonably practicable, access to the shotgun by an unauthorised person".

The Court of Appeal confirmed the decision of the Crown Court, determining that it was feasible for Mr Farrer to have prevented his mother having access, and that he was in breach of the conditions of the certificate. It is, therefore, imperative not to share cabinet key access or codes with others.

My recommendation would be to make a will and to include with it a record of any guns and ammunition you own, and details of where your guns are stored, together with copies of current firearm and shotgun certificates and details of the location of the original certificates.

It is also important to remember that those we leave behind, particularly those whom we entrust to administer our estates, may be unfamiliar with such regulations, so it is wise to be proactive. The more information you can leave them, the better. For example, contact details of the firearms licensing department with guidance on how a temporary permit can be obtained may be helpful.

Other useful information would be an estimate of what the guns are worth, including any receipts for what you paid for them. Finally, think about the possible beneficiaries for your guns and ensure that they already have appropriate certification or, better still, include the guns on his or her licence.

Generally, getting in touch with the firearms licensing department may be preferable to contacting the police, who may be anxious about the prospect of dealing with readily accessible and unlicensed shotgun holders.

If you have made a will, your executors will be responsible for taking control of your estate and assets, including your guns. As ever, communication of these wishes with your next of kin is extremely important.