As of December 2014, there were nearly two million firearm licences issued to Canadian individuals. 
Furthermore, an Angus Reid survey completed in 1991 estimated that Canadian firearm owners possess approximately 2.7 firearms on average. These statistics fail to account for all unlicensed firearms in Canada, thus, the true number of firearms is undoubtedly higher.
With such a high number of firearm owners, there is an important issue that is certain to arise – one which few people may think about or be able to address; how, and by who, will these firearms be handled when the owners die? Also, who may inherit a firearm?
When one accepts the duties of executorship for an estate, there is always the likelihood the executor will discover assets that may present a challenge in the administration. Without question, a firearm qualifies as one of those “tricky” assets; especially if the executor was unaware that the deceased possessed a firearm.
Many questions arise upon discovering a deceased’s firearm. Is the firearm registered? Is it a restricted or prohibited firearm? Is the deceased’s licence still valid? Is it in the Will (if there is a Will)? Is the beneficiary of the firearm qualified to receive it?
How should the executor proceed? The following is a summary of some of the factors to consider and procedures to follow.
Responsibilities of an Executor
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) provide excellent guidance on how to address some of these questions. The RCMP imposes, on the executor, the responsibility to transfer a firearm to a properly licensed individual, or business, in a safe and lawful manner and within a reasonable period of time.
It is the responsibility of the executor to ensure that the firearms are safely stored until such time as the firearms are transferred or disposed of. The executor is responsible to further ensure that any restricted or prohibited firearms that the executor, as transferor, transfers to another individual or business are registered to the transferee.
The RCMP also imposes on the executor the duty of determining whether the deceased held a firearms licence, and, for any restricted or prohibited firearms, that the appropriate registration certificates are located. Should any required documentation be missing at the time of death, the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) can assist an executor to replace the missing paperwork.
Inheriting a Firearm
The Firearms Act sets out the Federal regulations governing the possession of firearms.
The beneficiary of a firearm must have reached the age of majority and have a Possession and Acquisition Licence (“PAL”) with all appropriate privileges for the class of the firearm.
‘Firearms’ are defined in the Canadian Criminal Code. Unfortunately, there are many prohibited firearms and weapons in distribution. A comprehensive listing, descriptions and definitions of prohibited, restricted and non-restricted firearms are listed in the schedule Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted.As well, the RCMP has prepared and made available excellent guides on how to identify and dispose of restricted or prohibited weapons and provides very specific procedures to follow when permitted firearms are transferred to any beneficiary. Indeed, the heir must notify the Chief Firearms Officer of the province seeking approval to have any restricted or prohibited firearms transferred and registered to him or her. This process is mandatory in order to ensure the heir is eligible to own the firearm.
If the heir resides in a foreign country, the executor must ensure the foreign jurisdiction allows the firearm to be imported. The executor must also contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for additional information on the requirements for an exporting permit. Canada Post is prohibited from shipping firearms abroad, however, the RCMP provides a list of licenced carrier companies.
If there are no heirs, no qualified heirs or should the named beneficiary refuse the firearm, the RCMP provides a few options available to the executor; notably
- to sell or give the firearm to someone else who holds a PAL with the appropriate privileges for the class of the firearm of the deceased;
- sell or give the firearm to a qualified business or museum;
- have the firearm deactivated so that it no longer meets the definition of a firearm and, therefore, is exempted from the requirements of the Firearm Act; or
- simply turn the firearm over to a police officer for disposal.
As we can see from the above, the duties of executors handling firearms may require a little more effort and research and entail more risks than those associated with other types of estate assets. Given the seriousness of any accident or oversight, I submit that a testator owning a firearm has a duty to advise his executor, heir and estate advisor whether any firearm is registered, whether they still has a valid licence and that this testator carefully consider who is the best person to receive the firearm on his death, if anyone. Some proper planning may go a long way toward facilitating the executor’s handling of the firearm.
Asking the proper questions and inquiring about the assets of a testator is the responsibility of an estate advisor. When one has knowledge of a firearm becoming an asset of an estate, it would be wise to ensure all the above questions are answered and steps are taken to ensure that the administration of the estate will be as simple as possible and the executors and beneficiaries will be safe.
If you have any questions regarding the issues addressed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. My contact information can be found on the Biography page or by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This article is provided as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.