What does Next of Kin Mean?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

The term next of kin is probably something you heard of before. But what does it actually mean? Next of kin are the people who have legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person. This includes medical decisions and signing off on any financial transactions. Next of kin is sometimes referred to as primary next of kin, first next of kin or principal next of kin.

What does next of kin really mean?

The next of kin is the person who will make decisions on your behalf if you become incapable of making them yourself. The term next of kin is sometimes used interchangeably with certain other terms such as “spouse,” “heir,” or even “next of friend.” But none of these words mean what you think they mean.

Your spouse is someone whom you married or who was married to you at the time of your death (or in some states still living). In most cases, this person does not automatically have authority over your healthcare and/or finances. That is unless there is already an agreement between you stating otherwise (for instance: health care power of attorney). For example:

If I have a husband named John Smith and he dies before me then I would become his successor under intestacy laws. That only applies if only we were married at the time he died. Moreover, this means that he left no will behind for any other person to step into his shoes instead! In this case I most probably would get control over his assets upon death.

What is the definition of kin?

The term kin has a variety of meanings. Its interpretation often depends on the context. In the most basic sense, kin is just another word for family. If you’re British, you might say that your family includes your brothers, sisters and parents. If you’re American, you might say it also includes your cousins and aunts/uncles. However, in some senses of the word “kin,” it means more than just blood relatives. It also refers to distant relatives such as grandparents or great-grandparent. There are also relatives though marriage and not only than genetics. The most important, perhaps, meaning of kin is within the legal context.

Why does next of kin matter?

You may not have realized it, but next of kin is a legal term. It often refers to the person who can make decisions on behalf of you if you are incapacitated or deceased. For example, your parents could be your next of kin because they’re legally able to make decisions for you. That usually occurs if anything happen to you where you can’t do so yourself (if they’re still alive). Next of kin rights also apply when someone dies without having made a will: in this case, their next of kin has certain rights. Such right often include having the right to handle their estate.

Who is the first next of kin?

The first next of kin is usually the person who has the closest relationship with you. Let’s say that you’re married and have two children. Then your spouse is your first next of kin. If your parents are still alive, they could have a claim on this  as well. It’s state may define next of kin differently. Therefore, you need to make sure you know what applies to your case.

Next in line to be notified will be other relatives. These include siblings and aunts/uncles – again in order of closeness to you (e.g., your siblings).

The rules don’t stop there: it might not just be one list of people. It could include many more people depending on what you wrote in your will or trust.

Do I have to be next of kin to make decisions for a family member?

A next of kin can refer to many different people. It might be a spouse, friend, relative or child. In some case it could even be someone unexpected. For instance,  it could be an estranged mother-in-law or cousin twice removed whom you’ve never met before. In some cases you don’t even need to be blood relatives with someone in order to be their next of kin.

Even if you’re not related to the patient by blood but live in their household you could be their next of in. The crucial details here is being responsible for making decisions about their care (like a long-term care nurse).

Does next of kin take precedence over a will?

If you are the next of kin, you will be able to make decisions for your loved one. That usually occurs when they become incapacitated or their passing is imminent. For example, if your father lives in a nursing home and has dementia and can no longer make decisions for himself, you will have the power to make those decisions on his behalf. Let’s see another example. Your mother dies and does not have a will or trust  (known as intestacy). In that case all of her assets would pass through probate court. The assets then would go to whoever is her next of kin according to your state law.

Next of kin can sometimes make decisions for deceased individuals who left behind wills too. This happens if the deceased did not name an executor or successor trustee. Usually this occurs when someone dies without having anyone who can carry out their wishes after they pass away.

The next of kin has rights to make medical or financial decisions for another person

Next of kin is a term that describes a person who has the authority to make decisions for another person. This can very often refer to significant medical and financial decisions. They might also have other types of responsibilities and right decision-making rights when you cannot make them yourself.

Moreover, we can’t stress enough that next of kin is not the same thing as a spouse or partner. It also does not have anything to do with wills or powers of attorney. You’re either the next of kin, or you’re not.

Final Thoughts

Next of kin is a term that you hear a lot in the news, but what does it mean? It refers to the person who has legal rights over another person’s body and property in case of death or incapacitation. Next of kin status can be important for making decisions about end-of-life care and burial arrangements. This is important when a loved one passes away.

You want to be prepared for you own passing? Then we recommend you have a look at Myend’s comprehensive and easy-to-use end-of-life services. Ready to experience the future of testamentary and end-of-life services? Then sign up today completely free of charge!

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Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.