Knowing who your next of kin is matters in life and death. More than just your closest living relative, this family member has legal rights and obligations on a number of your medical, financial and legal affairs, especially if a person died intestate. In this blog post, we cover the legal definition of next of kin, and where they assume responsibility.
Next of kin refers to the closest living blood or marriage relative of any given person. In Australia, it usually means a spouse or de facto partner. However if someone is unmarried or single then your next of kin is the person's closest living relative.
The phrase next of kin is predominantly used on legal documents like liability waivers and Wills. However, this person goes beyond a name on paper. The next of kin is the first point of emergency contact if there is an unexpected accident, and they'll be the first person notified of your death. They may also need to support legal or medical decisions on the person's behalf in an emergency situation, or give the green light of approval for organ donation, if a person wishes to do so.
The specific responsibilities of the next of kin vary, depending on if a person dies intestate, or if the person's next of kin was also named as executor. Either way, the next of kin can become an important personal representative on making funeral arrangements, handling financial affairs, notifying friends of a death and distributing a deceased person's estate.
What's more, the closest living relative identified as the next of kin may also be the go to beneficiary for a person's estate, if an individual dies intestate.
In the United States the next of kin is the closest living blood relative. This technicality does not exist in Australia. In fact, in most cases, the next of kin is usually the deceased person's spouse.
When you think about who might be your next of kin the most important thing to consider is who would you want police to call if you were in an accident or seriously injured? Is there one person who would be your emergency contact, as well as make any key funeral arrangements in your death?
The next of kin can take over a number of important decisions, and so it's important to identify your next of kin so you can open up discussions about any end of life wishes. Below, we how a person's next of kin is determined, even if the person's spouse or closest blood relative has passed away before them.
Spouse or de facto partner;
Eldest adult child;
Siblings (over the age of 18);
The executor of your Will;
A personal representative of the deceased;
An individual identified by the coroner.
Being named someone's next of kin does not necessarily mean you will need to do anything. The extent of your responsibilities will depend on whether or not the person who has identified you had a Will in place before they died.
If the deceased person did not have a valid Will, the laws of intestacy mean the next of kin will need to take on certain responsibilities to cover the deceased person's affairs. This branches across death certificate, legal and financial admin to do with the deceased person's estate. However in this case, it is also likely a legal order will have been passed to identify the next of kin as a key beneficiary.
Recording the person's death with the registry of births, deaths and marriages;
Notifying family members;
Making funeral or burial arrangements;
Writing an obituary or death notice;
Organising their financial affairs;
Administering their Estate e.g. distributing assets to Beneficiaries.
If you have been contacted by authorities but the person is still alive your duties may include:
Making medical decisions;
Making legal decisions;
Paying bills or making financial decisions.
Next of kin is an important role. However, this person may have to do very little if you have your affairs in order and your Will written. If you nominate your executor, and even have an appointed financial or medical power of attorney to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated, this legal document can prevent the need for a next of kin to step in.
Your next of kin will only become responsible for carrying out your affairs if you die without a valid will, or if you are hospitalised without a Power of Attorney or Advance Care Directive in place.
In this situation, your next of kin will be the person named to take on these responsibilities. There is no hard or fast rule about who this person will be - it may be your spouse, your civil partner, children or your siblings. But if you don't want any of those people making these decisions, it's important you get your affairs in order to set out alternatives.
Safewill can help you identify your next of kin. We also offer an affordable, flexible and easy way to make your will online.
You can make provisions for your next of kin, and leave them instructions for everything from funeral arrangements, to organ donation and distributing your estate. Or, you can take the burden from your next of kin and appoint an executor of estate and power of attorney's to take care of your affairs.
Our online platform offers an affordable, flexible and easy way to write your will today. You'll even be supported by legal professionals, and a team of will experts overseeing the process at each step of the way.
To discuss further how we can help you in your time of need, call us on 1800 103 310 , or via live chat now.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice but to act as a basic educational guide. If you have concerns or queries you should consult a legal professional about your specific circumstances.