The death of a relative or loved one can be an overwhelming time when grief can take precedence over the official process of registering a death, establishing Next of Kin and starting plans for a funeral. A difficult situation at the best of times, ensuring that due process is followed is essential to avoid unnecessary stress.
Some deaths, particularly those that are unexpected can leave a murky picture of who has responsibility for what. This is made even less clear when the deceased has no Will and/or has a complicated family set-up.
A lack of clarity can create upset and hurt which, at a difficult time for all, is best avoided.
In this guide, we hope to cover all of your questions about who is the Next of Kin when someone dies in the UK, what this means and what this role involves.
- What does "next of kin" mean?
- Do I have to accept the role?
- What does the role entail?
- Is the eldest child next of kin?
- What is the legal order of next of kin in the UK?
- Who is my next of kin if I am separated?
- Who is my next of kin if I am married?
- What if deceased was separated, not divorced but with new partner?
- Next of kin vs lasting power of attorney
- What happens if no next of kin can be established?
- How can you prove you are the next of kin?
What Does the Term ‘Next of Kin’ Mean?
Despite being a common phrase when it comes to medical treatments and in relation to the care of a loved one, the term Next of Kin has no legal definition in UK law.
It is a term that has traditionally been used in place of the more accurate description of closest living relative.
This assumption by institutions such as hospitals, care homes and other organisations has been updated in recent years and, if you over the age of 18, you can nominate anyone to be your Next of Kin whether they are a blood relative or not.
It is important to note the difference between a Next of Kin:
- who has been nominated to make decisions about the care and treatment of a patient as well as to act as the primary point of contact with the authorities after death;
and a Next of Kin:
- who is the closest living relative and who stands to inherit from an estate in the event of there being no Last Will and Testament.
Do I Have To Accept The Role of Next of Kin?
If you are not related to the person who nominates you as their Next of Kin then you have no responsibility to take on the duties associated with this role.
However, if you are a relative (spouse, child or sibling) then it may be your responsibility to make certain decisions during care and after death. This can include matters regarding organ and tissue donation as well as post mortems.
Prior to death, responsibility for care falls to the holder of any Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for Health and Welfare (see Next of Kin vs Lasting Power of Attorney, below)
What Is the Role of Next of Kin in the Event of Someone’s Death?
The role does not come with any legal rights and carries no official responsibilities in the event of someone’s death.
The Next of Kin does also not automatically receive any inheritance rights. In the event of there being no Last Will and Testament then the Next of Kin for inheritance rights is established in accordance with a strict hierarchy of living relatives (see What Is the Legal Order of Next of Kin in the UK?, below)
The role should not be confused with that of the estate Executor whose job it is to find and distribute the deceased’s assets to the inheritors.
The Next of Kin is usually the person with whom funeral directors, coroners, police and other official organisations use as the primary point of contact to provide and request information.
They are also the person who is consulted about matters such as post mortems, organ and tissue donation as well as other logistics such as funeral arrangements.
It is not the person with whom matters of the estate are discussed as these duties fall to the Executor of the Will.
Is the Eldest Child Next of Kin?
This is a common misconception and one that is often perpetuated in the UK by fairly archaic traditions of inheritance related titles and land being passed down to the eldest child.
However, this is not the case and the eldest child of a deceased person will not automatically be given the role.
What Is the Legal Order of Next of Kin in the UK?
So, in the absence of a specifically nominated person, how is this role established?
In England and Wales, the process taken by lawyers and other officials to establish a Next of Kin for the deceased is as per the following hierarchy:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Direct descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc) including adopted children but not step-children
In Scotland, the process is exactly the same but parents and siblings have equal rights to the title and role of Next of Kin.
After this point, the order of entitlement varies depending on the jurisdiction of the country in which the death has been registered with England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all having slightly different approaches.
Claims to the role of Next of Kin can come from half siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and half aunts and uncles.
The UK Government has a useful online tool that can help guide you through who is considered Next of Kin in the absence of any of the above listed living relatives. Please note that this tool is to be used to establish this role for the purposes of distributing the assets of the deceased’s estate.
Who Is My Next of Kin If I Am Separated?
Even if you are legally separated, your spouse will technically remain your Next of Kin unless you have completed full divorce proceedings.
Who Is My Next of Kin If I Am Married?
Your spouse is your Next of Kin unless you have appointed someone else to act in this role.
However, please note that, when it comes to inheritance, your appointed Next of Kin has no rights to your estate unless you have specifically nominated them as a benefactor in your Will.
What If the Deceased Was Separated but Not Divorced and Has a New Partner?
Unfortunately, unless the deceased completed divorce proceedings, their ex-partner will legally remain as Next of Kin unless they appointed their new partner specifically to act in this role.
For the purposes of inheritance and in the absence of a Will, the ex-partner will remain the principle beneficiary of the Estate.
It can be upsetting for new partners to be overlooked when it comes to information being provided and decisions being made about the deceased. In these circumstances, it can be helpful if you have proof that the deceased appointed you to act in this capacity. Whilst this does not grant you any legal rights or responsibilities, it can mean that the hospital, funeral directors or police do include, or revert to, you in these matters.
For more information on providing your status as Next of Kin, see ‘How Can You Prove You Are The Next of Kin?’ below.
Next of Kin vs Lasting Power of Attorney
A Next of Kin is very different from a person who has been given power of attorney and it is important to remember that the Next of Kin has no legal rights in UK law.
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), on the other hand, is a written authorisation that is acknowledged in British law as giving someone the legal right to act on someone else’s behalf.
There are two types of LPA:
- Property and Financial Affairs
- Health and Welfare
However, an LPA does not survive death and is effectively terminated once the person, for whom they are acting on behalf of, dies.
An LPA does not give the holder any rights of inheritance. The holder will also not be considered a Next of Kin unless they are a blood relative and/or have also been appointed to act in this role.
What Happens If No Next of Kin Can Be Established?
In the event that the deceased had no living relatives and no nominated Next of Kin then the role passes to the Crown.
This means that the UK authorities can make all necessary decisions relating to arrangements of a funeral and, if no Will was arranged, take control over the liquidation over the deceased’s estate.
How Can You Prove You Are The Next of Kin?
In a situation where someone other than a spouse or a blood relative has been nominated as the Next of Kin, it can be difficult to prove that the deceased had asked for you to be considered in this capacity.
Some NHS hospitals offer a card to their patients to complete in addition to having dedicated space on their admission forms where this information can be noted.
It can be helpful to have a signed declaration that has been dated and witnessed by an independent professional (this does not have to be a solicitor) to prove the wishes of the deceased.