Who And What Is Next Of Kin?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 5th June 2024

While the concept of next of kin is widely understood, its legal definition can vary depending on the context.


In this article, we’ll give you a full overview of next of kin in UK law. We’ll look at the legal definition of next of kin, including who is typically considered next of kin and what rights and responsibilities they may have.

We’ll also discuss the importance of understanding next of kin status in personal relationships and legal matters.

What does next of kin mean?

In UK law, "next of kin" refers to a person's closest relatives. 

Generally, next of kin are those most closely related to an individual by blood or marriage and may have certain legal rights and responsibilities concerning that person's affairs. 

While there's no universal definition of next of kin, certain legal provisions and regulations acknowledge the concept and guide its application. 

For example, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 outlines the hierarchy of decision-makers for individuals lacking mental capacity, with next of kin often playing a significant role. 

How does next of kin status relate to inheritance laws? 

When someone dies without a will, the rules of intestacy decide how the deceased’s estate is distributed, prioritising the next of kin such as spouses, children, and parents. 

Who your next of kin is, therefore, can have a significant impact on inheritance and the distribution of assets. Additionally, in the same circumstances, it is the next of kin who applies for Letters of Administration and becomes responsible for estate administration

What factors determine next of kin status? 

Generally, spouses, children, parents, and siblings are considered next of kin, but the exact hierarchy may vary depending on the situation. Factors such as marital status, biological or adopted relationships, and legal guardianship can influence next of kin status. 

For example, if a couple isn’t married and one dies, the laws of intestacy won't count the surviving partner as next of kin. Therefore, they will not receive any inheritance, even if their partner intended them to.

The importance of clarity in documentation and declarations for next of kin 

Legal documents like wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney can specify who should be considered next of kin and outline their roles and responsibilities. Without clear documentation, disputes may arise over next-of-kin status, leading to delays or confusion in decision-making processes.

Additionally, making your intentions clear through written declarations can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure your wishes are honored in legal matters. 

Scenarios where next of kin is important 

Medical Decisions 

If an individual is involved in a serious accident and unable to communicate their medical wishes. The doctors turn to the next of kin, who have the legal authority to make critical healthcare decisions on their behalf. 

Intestacy Situations

When a person dies without a will, their estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy.

In one case, an unmarried individual with no children passed away, leaving behind a significant estate. Without a will, the estate was divided among the deceased’s parents and siblings, as determined by the next of kin hierarchy. This example highlights how next of kin status can directly impact the distribution of assets

Funeral Arrangements 

When someone dies, their next of kin has the primary right to decide on funeral arrangements.

Guardianship of minor children 

If a parent or parents die and leave behind dependent children without appointing legal guardians, the court typically looks to the next of kin to assume guardianship. 

Property and Asset Management

If someone suffers a medical emergency, can't manage their financial affairs, and hasn’t created a power of attorney, the next of kin can be given the legal authority to handle property and financial matters. 

How does the NHS define next of kin?

Next of kin in the NHS generally refers to the closest relative or loved one a patient nominates as their emergency contact.  This can be a family member, partner, friend, or anyone the patient trusts to make decisions on their behalf if they can't.

Patients are usually asked to nominate their next of kin when they register with a GP or on admission to a hospital. This person is typically the first point of contact for medical staff. and may be asked to make decisions about the patient’s care, especially in emergencies or if the patient becomes incapacitated.

That being said, being named as next of kind does not grant automatic legal rights to make all decisions, in cases where legal consent is required, healthcare professionals might need to consult with someone who has a legally recognised role like a person with a lasting power of attorney. 

Healthcare decisions 

Your next of kin is usually the first person contacted in medical emergencies when a patient is incapacitated and unable to make decisions.

While the next of kin can provide input and express the patient’s wishes, they do not have automatic legal authority to make healthcare decisions unless they hold a lasting power of attorney for health and welfare. 

Access to information 

Next of kin may be given information about a patient’s condition and treatment options, especially in urgent or serious situations. However, this is subject to patient confidentiality rules and the patient's consent.

Decision-making in the absence of an LPA

If there is no LPA, healthcare professionals will consider the views of the next of kin as part of determining what is in the patient's best interests, but the final decision lies with the medical team.

Organ donation 

The next of kin may be asked to give consent for organ donation if the deceased’s wishes are unknown, though the law now assumes consent in England unless the individual opts out.

Funeral arrangements 

The next of kin often take responsibility for arranging the funeral and dealing with the deceased’s body. They do not have legal ownership but are typically recognised as the primary decision-makers.

Estate administration

If there is no will, the next of kin may apply to become the administrator of the deceased's estate, handling probate, and distributing assets according to the rules of intestacy.

The next of kin is usually responsible for informing relevant authorities and organisations about the death, such as banks, utilities, and the local council.

What if you don’t have a next of kin?

In situations where an individual has no next of kin, either due to lack of family or estranged relationships, several procedures and legal measures can be taken to ensure their well-being and manage their affairs.

Appointment of an Advocate or Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA)

If a person without a next of kin is incapacitated and unable to make healthcare decisions, an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) may be appointed. An IMCA supports and represents the individual in decisions about serious medical treatment and changes of residence when they have no family or friends to consult.

Best Interests Decision-Making

When there is no next of kin, healthcare professionals will make decisions based on what they believe to be in the patient’s best interests, considering all available information about the patient’s wishes and values.

End-of-Life Arrangements

If a person dies with no next of kin and no one else to arrange their funeral, the local council is responsible for organizing a public health funeral. This is a simple, respectful service funded by the local authority.

The council will also handle the deceased’s possessions and may attempt to recover funeral costs from their estate.

Estate and Inheritance

When someone dies without a will and no next of kin can be found, their estate is managed according to the rules of intestacy. f no eligible relatives are identified under intestacy laws, the estate is declared "bona vacantia" (ownerless property) and transferred to the Crown. The Bona Vacantia Division of the Government Legal Department administers these estates.

What’s the difference between next of kin and power of attorney?

Next of kin and power of attorney serve different but complementary roles in supporting and making decisions for an individual.

While next of kin may provide important support and input, a power of attorney offers legally recognised decision-making authority. 

How do you prove next of kin?

Certain situations may require the next of kin to prove their status. For example, hospitals and care facilities may need to identify next of kin for decision-making purposes, or funeral directs may require proof before they proceed with arrangements. 

In such circumstances, documents that may be used to prove next of kin include: 

  • Birth certificates

  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate

  • Adoption certificates 

  • Proof of identity (i.e. passport, driving, licence, etc) 

  • Proof of relationship (e.g. join bank statements, evidence of cohabitation)

  • Affidavits 

  • Statutory declarations 

Is your next of kin responsible for paying for the funeral? 

Your next of kin isn't automatically responsible for paying for your funeral. In the UK, funeral costs are usually covered by your estate. This means that any money, property, or assets will be used to pay for the funeral.

Alternatively, if the deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan or life insurance policy that covers funeral expenses, these funds can be used.

If there's no estate or not enough money in the estate to cover the funeral costs, responsibility does not automatically fall to the next of kin. However, they may choose to cover the costs voluntarily.

If not, the local council may step in to arrange a public health funeral.

How can Lawhive help?

Understanding next of kin is important, but it's equally as important to have clear legal documentation to ensure your wishes are clear.

Making a will and setting up a legal power of attorney are key steps in securing your future and managing your affairs effectively.

At Lawhive, our network of expert wills, trust, and probate solicitors can guide you through these essential processes.

From offering expert advice on creating a will to setting up a power of attorney for health and financial matters. Our goal is to make legal matters straightforward and manageable, so you have peace of mind knowing your affairs are in order.

Contact our Legal Assessment Specialists today to learn more and get a free fixed-fee quote for the services of a specialist lawyer.

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