27. Oct 16

OLG Koblenz on doctor-patient confidentiality in inheritance disputes

In cases involving inheritance disputes, it is possible for the testator’s doctor to be released from doctor-patient confidentiality. That was the verdict of the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Koblenz [Higher Regional Court of Koblenz] (Az.: 12 W 538/15).

GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte, Köln, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, München und Stuttgart führen aus: Succession law stipulates that the testator needs to have testamentary capacity at the time when the will is being drafted. This issue frequently gives rise to disputes among the heirs. To prevent this from happening, the testator can have a qualified doctor produce a certificate attesting to his capacity to make a will. Having said that, the court is not bound by this doctor’s certificate in establishing testamentary capacity. As such, a detailed consultation with the doctor may be necessary. Notwithstanding this, a doctor’s duty to maintain confidentiality continues to apply even after the death of the testator.

If the testimony of the doctor proves necessary for the purposes of resolving an inheritance dispute, it is possible for him to be released from his duty to maintain confidentiality. This comes from a ruling of the Oberlandesgericht Koblenz. While the case before the OLG did not concern the deceased’s testamentary capacity, the doctor’s testimony was nevertheless required in order to rule on an inheritance dispute between two siblings following the death of their mother. The central issue was whether the testatrix was dependent on comprehensive care. That was the contention of the daughter, who claimed to have cared for the mother and demanded financial compensation in return. Without a doctor’s certificate, the OLG was unable to rule on the matter. However, the doctor invoked his duty to maintain confidentiality.

The OLG confirmed that doctor-patient confidentiality continues to apply after the patient’s death. That being said, it also stated it was important to examine whether the patient had released his doctor from this duty. In the absence of a statement to this effect from the testator, it is necessary to investigate his presumed intentions. In doing so, it was said that the doctor was largely entitled to reach his own decisions. However, should he refuse to give evidence, he would have to be able to explain which of the deceased’s concerns informed his decision. Otherwise, the court could look into the presumed intentions of the testator. The Court went on to say that it could be assumed in the instant case that the deceased would have wanted to prevent a dispute from arising among her children and would therefore have released the doctor from his duty to maintain confidentiality.

Lawyers who are versed in the field of succession law can advise on all issues relating to estates, wills and contracts of inheritance.

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