Knowing your next of kin is important when making end of life planning decisions. Identifying who your next of kin is in the eyes of the law will help you to make arrangements to put certain powers into the right hands.
Simply put, the next of kin is the nearest blood relative, though if you are married or in a civil partnership, then your spouse is your next of kin. Unless you have made other legal provisions, your next of kin will make medical decisions on your behalf while you are incapacitated. The rules of intestacy prioritise relatives similar to the rules of next of kin, so if you die without a will, your next of kin will likely inherit a large portion of your estate. Your next of kin may also be responsible for funeral arrangements, though they can delegate those.
UK law does not provide a concrete definition of next of kin. So, it is open to interpretation. If you are in hospital and asked about your next of kin, you do not need to name your legal next of kin. When the hospital asks that question, they are asking for an emergency contact who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. The emergency contact is also the hospital’s point of contact with your family and friends. In this situation, it is best to name someone you trust who is nearby in terms of location so they can attend the hospital if required. If you have a medical power of attorney, you should name them as your next of kin.
The next of kin for children under the age of 18 are usually their parents or legal guardians. This is because the next of kin will make important decisions on their behalf.
If you die or are incapacitated and have not named a next of kin, then the law will look for the nearest blood relative. They will generally look in the following order:
Grandparents and grandchildren would be next if there were no surviving family member and then aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. The law looks at the closeness of the relation rather than who you are on good terms with, which is why it is important to conduct end of life planning and estate planning. If you are estranged from your parents or a brother, you risk them being made next of kin if you do not have plans in place.
No. Naming them as your next of kin on hospital intake forms just means that you trust them to liaise with the hospital regarding your medical care. The next of kin that you name in this capacity will not have automatic claim over your estate and will not be able to contest intestacy rules based on their status as next of kin because they are not a blood relative. If you wish your best friend or another non-blood relative or unwed partner to inherit part or all of your estate, you need to create a will stating such.
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