Doctors Must Wait Three Years Before Accepting Inheritance From Their Patients

The ethics board of the Israel Medical Association has ruled that doctors will not be allowed to receive, directly or indirectly, any inheritance of a patient they are treating, unless a "cooling off" period of at least three years has past between the treatment and the time when the patient designates the doctor in his will.

According to the decision, the physician must reject the inheritance if there is no cooling off period.

The decision by the ethics board, headed by Professor Avinoam Reches, a neurologist at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, followed a complaint filed in 2005 by a person whose mother had died in the summer of 2004, and who had left in all her property and money to her doctor, leaving her son out of her will.

The doctor, who was a family doctor at Clalit Health Maintenance Organization, had violated the rules of medical ethics according to the plaintiff, when she accepted the inheritance of the mother.

The son also filed a civil suit against the doctor, and two years later a compromise was reached, in which the son rescinded his complaint and in return the doctor returned some of the property she had received from the plaintiff's mother.

However in January 2008, the granddaughter of the woman filed a complaint with the ethics committee and argued that the compromise reached between her father and the doctor was signed after he had suffered a stroke and was unable to deal with the court deliberations. The granddaughter also presented evidence that the doctor continued to treat her grandmother after the will had been finalized, contrary to the doctor's claims in court that during the final years the two were only close friends.

Reches appointed a committee under Prof. Adi Shani to investigate the complaint. During the probe the committee learned that the woman had used the doctor's attorney to handle her business affairs, which the granddaughter said constituted a conflict of interest for the lawyer.

The doctor had retired from the HMO some two years prior to the death of the woman.

The committee concluded that there had been a "failure of conduct" in the decision of the doctor to accept the inheritance and expressed their disappointment that she did not recognize the problem. The committee censured the doctor, but she has not restored all the inheritance to the family of the woman.

"There are instructions in the Medical Association that point to the problem when a patient wishes to leave money behind to his doctor who is not a relative," said Shani. "Personally I think that a doctor must not accept an inheritance from a patient, but in the end the Medical Association decided to allow it after a long cooling off period."