Invalidation of Charitable Gifts Made Prior to Death

A Florida law allowing heirs to challenge wills was recently repealed.

Church Law and Tax 1991-01-01 Recent Developments

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

The Florida Supreme Court struck down a state law that permitted certain heirs to challenge gifts made to churches and other charities in a will executed within 6 months of a person’s death. Prior to this ruling, Florida law, like the laws of a small and dwindling number of states, permitted a spouse or “lineal descendent” to challenge a will of a decedent who died within 6 months after executing a will leaving all or part of his or her estate to a religious or charitable organization. An elderly Florida resident executed a will on May 5, 1986, leaving most of her estate to a charity. The woman’s will left only a token gift to the her sole suriving daughter since the daughter “has not shown or indicated the slightest affection or gratitude to me” and since “I have contributed substantially during my life for her education and subsequent monies I have been required to expend primarily due to her promiscuous type of life.” The woman died two months later, survived only by her daughter. The daughter immediately challenged her mother’s will on the basis of the state law permitting lineal descendants to challenge charitable gifts made in their parents’ wills if executed within 6 months of death. The charity opposed the daughter’s action on the ground that the state law was violated the constitutional guaranty of the “equal protection of the laws.” A trial court agreed with the charity, but a state appeals court agreed with the daughter. The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which ruled that the state law was unconstitutional. The court began its opinion by observing that statutes restricting charitable gifts originated in feudal England “as part of the struggle for power and wealth between the king and the organized church.” As feudalism declined, the justification for these laws became the protection of surviving family members against disinheritance caused by the undue influence of religious organizations. In rejecting this rationale, the court observed that “it is unreasonable to presume, as the statute seems to do, that all lineal descendants are dependents, in need, or are not otherwise provided for.” The court emphasized that state law has ample protections against undue influence and fraud that can be used by disinherited family members without the need for a specific statute. Further, the court observed that “the charitable gift restriction fails to protect against windfalls by lineal descendants who have had no contact with the decedent but who may benefit from the avoidance of a charitable gift.” Since the statute was not “reasonably necessary to accomplish the asserted state goals,” it violated the state constitution. Further, the statute violated the federal and state constitutional protections of the “equal protection of the laws,” since it treated gifts made to charitable and religious organizations within 6 months of death less favorably than other gifts without any rational justification. The fact that a gift is made within 6 months of death is not in itself sufficient proof of undue influence, noted the court, since most gifts made within 6 months of death are not the product of undue influence and some gifts made more than 6 months prior to death are. Accordingly, the 6-month rule was arbitrary and treated charities less favorably than other citizens or organizations without adequate justification. One dissenting justice cautioned that the law might still serve a valuable purpose in appropriate cases: “Surely one would have to say that, had the [decedent] succumbed to a televion evangelist’s call to be with the Lord by delivering her property to his church and thus leave unprotected a physically handicapped child, a rationale basis for the statute would exist.” In conclusion, note that the court observed that there are only three other states that have laws invalidating charitable gifts made within a specified time prior to death—Georgia, Idaho, and Mississippi. Shriners Hospital v. Zrillic, 563 So.2d 64 (Fla. 1990).

Related Topics:

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

ajax-loader-largecaret-downcloseHamburger Menuicon_amazonApple PodcastsBio Iconicon_cards_grid_caretChild Abuse Reporting Laws by State IconChurchSalary Iconicon_facebookGoogle Podcastsicon_instagramLegal Library IconLegal Library Iconicon_linkedinLock IconMegaphone IconOnline Learning IconPodcast IconRecent Legal Developments IconRecommended Reading IconRSS IconSubmiticon_select-arrowSpotify IconAlaska State MapAlabama State MapArkansas State MapArizona State MapCalifornia State MapColorado State MapConnecticut State MapWashington DC State MapDelaware State MapFederal MapFlorida State MapGeorgia State MapHawaii State MapIowa State MapIdaho State MapIllinois State MapIndiana State MapKansas State MapKentucky State MapLouisiana State MapMassachusetts State MapMaryland State MapMaine State MapMichigan State MapMinnesota State MapMissouri State MapMississippi State MapMontana State MapMulti State MapNorth Carolina State MapNorth Dakota State MapNebraska State MapNew Hampshire State MapNew Jersey State MapNew Mexico IconNevada State MapNew York State MapOhio State MapOklahoma State MapOregon State MapPennsylvania State MapRhode Island State MapSouth Carolina State MapSouth Dakota State MapTennessee State MapTexas State MapUtah State MapVirginia State MapVermont State MapWashington State MapWisconsin State MapWest Virginia State MapWyoming State IconShopping Cart IconTax Calendar Iconicon_twitteryoutubepauseplay