All scholars agree that charity given in a person’s lifetime or when he is in good health is better than stating it in his will or ordering his heirs to give it on his death bed. They base their opinion on hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), which indicate that giving charity during a person’s lifetime entails a greater reward than giving it while on the death bed.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) that a man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and said: “O Messenger of Allah, which charity brings a greater reward?” He said, “If you give in charity when you are healthy, niggardly and afraid of poverty and wish to become wealthy. Do not delay until you are at the point of death and say, ‘Give this to so and so, give this to so and so,’ …” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
In his explanation to the above hadith, Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Al-Khattabi said: What this hadith means is that being niggardly is more likely when one is in good health, so if a person gives charity in such a condition, his intention is more sincere and his reward will be greater. This is unlike the one who is facing death and no longer has any hope of living. At that point he starts to realize that someone else will take his wealth, so his charity in this case is lacking, when compared with the charity given when he is in good health. Stinginess is based on the hope of remaining alive and fear of poverty, so a person does not have as much reward for his will, compared to the reward for charity given by one who is healthy and niggardly.”
Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “This hadith indicates that paying off debts and giving in charity during one’s lifetime when one is in good health is better than doing so after death or when one is sick. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) referred to that when he said: ‘When you are in good health and being cautious, hoping to be rich…’ because when a person is in good health it is usually more difficult for him to give money, because Satan makes him fear for it and makes the idea that he may live a long life and need that money attractive to him, as Allah the Almighty Says: “Satan threatens you with poverty“ (Al-Baqarah 2:268)
Another reason why charity that is given when the person is enjoying good health is better than that which is given on the death bed, is because Satan may make the idea of giving out all the money and state nothing to the heirs in the will, attractive to him. See: `Awn Al-Ma`bud by `Azim Abadi.
Furthermore, there are other authentic hadiths that illustrate the importance of giving charity during a person’s lifetime. We can recall what is narrated by Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “If a man were to give one dirham in charity when he is alive and in good health, that is better for him than giving one hundred when he is dying” (Abu Dawud), and also what is narrated by Abu Ad-Darda’ (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The likeness of the one who frees slaves and gives in charity when he is dying is that of a person who gives his food away after he has eaten his fill.” (Al-Tirmidhi)