Many states have laws that invalidate gifts to charity contained in wills executed within a prescribed period prior to a donor's death. Such laws, often referred to as "mortmain statutes," are designed to prevent "deathbed gifts" to churches.
One court has observed that such laws are designed to "prevent a testator during his last illness from being importuned or otherwise influenced, by hope of reward or fears of punishment in the hereafter, to leave his estate in whole or in part to charity or to the church."
A Florida state appeals court invalidated a gift to charity in the will of a decedent on the ground that it had been made within six months of death. A Florida statute (section 732.803 Florida Statutes) provides that an heir can contest such a gift, unless a prior will of the decedent (executed more than six months prior to his or her death) made a gift in substantially the same amount to the same charity.
Obviously, this problem can be avoided in most cases by encouraging church members to execute their estate plans during their most productive years.
Gorn v. Temple B'Nai Israel, 526 So.2d 118 (Fla. App. 2nd Dist. 1988)