If you are a resident of North Carolina, and you die owning tangible personal property, ownership and the right to possession of the property goes automatically to your legal heirs. But once an Executor or Administrator (collectively, the “Personal Administrator” or “PR”) is appointed for your estate, title is retroactively vested in the PR.[1] So immediately upon death there is an automatic transfer of firearms. It is a crime for anyone to sell, give away, or transfer a handgun unless the transferee has a handgun permit or a North Carolina concealed handgun permit.[2]

To our knowledge, the North Carolina Department of Justice has never required a PR to obtain a handgun permit before taking possession of an estate-transferred firearm. But a person who is prohibited from owning firearms should not serve Personal Representative of an estate that includes firearms.   

North Carolina law does not require a permit for the transfer of long guns, such as rifles, and shotguns. However, there are numerous classes of people who are prohibited from owning a firearm of any kind under federal law. These include, but are not limited to, people who have been convicted of a felony, dishonorably discharged from the military, are under a domestic violence protective order, have been convicted of a crime of domestic violence, are unlawful users of illegal drugs, have been adjudicated to be incompetent, or who have been committed to a mental institution.[3] Transferring a handgun without a permit is a crime. Transferring any weapon to a prohibited person is a crime. If you are serving as Administrator, don’t do it.

A licensed firearms dealer can determine if a prospective purchaser is not a prohibited person by either checking the National Instant Criminal Background System ("NICS"), which is a federal database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,[4] or by verifying an acceptable alternative, which includes a valid North Carolina handgun permit or concealed carry permit.

To be safe, a PR should not transfer ANY weapon to a beneficiary who does not have a handgun permit or a concealed carry permit, without going through a federally licensed firearms dealer. Remember that it is always a crime to transfer a handgun without a permit. It could be a crime to transfer a long gun as well. There can be no argument that you violated the transfer laws if you have a handgun permit in your file or if you left it up to a firearms dealer.

If your nephew smokes marijuana occasionally or has a domestic violence protective order against him, and you, as Executor of your grandmother’s estate, transfer a shotgun to him, you have committed a federal crime. If you didn’t know he smoked marijuana or had a domestic violence protective order against him, you had a duty to ask. Let that be your nephew’s problem, not yours.

[1] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-15-2

[2] N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-402

[3] 18 U.S.C. § 922

[4] 28 CFR 25.1