Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Sep. 9, 2013, 9:16am

Todd Sivia is offering gun owners a chance to protect their family firearms to ensure that guns will be handled properly and lawfully after death or incapacity through his new gun trust program.

Sivia, founder of Sivia Business and Legal Services, P.C., is the only law office in southern Illinois to offer gun trusts. He said there are out-of-state trusts available, but they do not focus on Illinois laws, which can be very restrictive and tricky.

“There are Missouri gun trusts,” Sivia explained. “But Illinois is a whole different animal.”

A gun trust is designed to transfer weapons between owners legally and safely. It limits a gun owner’s liability, prevents guns from being illegal in the future and makes it easier to purchase firearms.

When most people sit down to do an estate plan, estate planners often don’t take guns into consideration, which can be problematic, according to Sivia.

Just because a firearm is willed to an individual, does not make it legal. Certain people cannot own guns: felons, anyone under 21, those with mental disabilities, etc. And Illinois laws are much more restrictive than most other states. Some weapons are illegal for anyone to own and others are legal with special permits, like silencers and automatic weapons.

“If you don’t follow certain procedures in transferring guns,” Sivia said, “you may commit a federal felony.”

If someone were to pass down a handgun to a family member who did not possess a Firearm Owner Identification card (or FOID card), it is actually a federal felony for the new owner to have that gun in possession. A gun trust avoids those hiccups by recognizing when a firearm is passed on to someone who cannot possess the weapon and then figuring out what needs to be done to make it legal or working with that individual to find a suitable owner for the weapon.

Without a gun trust, an illegal firearm could either be confiscated or the new owner would be forced to sell the gun.

In certain situations, family relics could be lost forever.

“There is no family legacy,” Sivia said. “The gun that’s been in the family since the Civil War is now gone.”

Sivia’s gun trust also offers a maintenance program, which provides self defense training and makes sure clients are kept up on laws through legal training. Specific trainers are hired to make sure gun owners know how to use their weapons and know when it is OK to shoot and when not to shoot.

“What we found is people with guns sometimes don’t understand the law,” Sivia said.

One of the benefits of a gun trust is privacy by virtue of the blind nature of trusts.

Sivia said if someone is interested in maintaining anonymity, now is the time to get a gun trust. There is a law currently in place called CLEO, which stands for Chief Law Enforcement Officer. With CLEO, gun owners must get the OK from a top ranking law enforcement officer like a chief or sheriff before it is legal.

However, Sivia said there is a loophole that allows gun owners to transfer firearms without notifying a CLEO if the transfer is to a gun trust. That loophole ends at the end of this year. President Obama signed a bill effective Jan. 1 that changes the law requiring every transfer to go through a chief law enforcement officer whether it’s to a trust or not.

Sivia is a gun owner and already has a gun trust.

“I never tell anyone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” Sivia said.

He added that most Illinois gun laws are truly focused on Cook County, or the Chicago area. He added that concealed carry laws can be good for a community. Jail time doesn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent, but perhaps if criminals knew their potential victim had a gun, they’d think twice before attacking.

“Crime rate is down in every other state except Illinois,” Sivia said. “Is it a coincidence? I don’t know.”

The price to open a gun trust consists of a $750 one-time fee. After that one-time fee, there is a $600-per-year maintenance fee. However, the maintenance fee covers the basic NRA self defense classes and legal training.

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