Family law: What is meant by next of kin?

Family law: What is meant by next of kin?

The term ‘next of kin’ is often used but not always fully understood. It is often not entirely clear who should be a person’s next of kin, or what responsibilities the title confers.

In terms of the law, next of kin currently has no legal meaning. Therefore, when a person is named or chosen to be next of kin, they do not then automatically assume any kind of responsibilities in the eyes of the law.

Use of next of kin

A common example of when the term is used would be if your employer asks you for the details of your next of kin so that if you were to have an accident at work and be taken to a hospital, your next of kin could be informed.

There are several different definitions of next of kin but essentially it translates to your nearest relative, or somebody that you would want to contact in the case of an emergency. Therefore, a common answer to who your next of kin may be is your partner or your children or parents.

Who is next of kin?

There are instances when the list of who is your next of kin is defined; most notably is the Mental Health Act which lists a person’s next of kin as follows:

  • Husband or Wife
  • Son or Daughter
  • Father or Mother
  • Brother or Sister
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Uncle or Aunt
  • Nephew or niece

However, in almost all circumstances there will be no need to follow this list since next of kin will simply be the person who you would like to be contacted in case of emergency on your behalf.

When problems arise

There are some cases where not being defined as a “next of kin” could cause problems. A common example would be when two partners are cohabiting but are not married.

If one of them has an accident and is placed in hospital and the other partner is not recorded as an emergency contact, the hospital could classify the non-injured partner as not being next of kin and, therefore, possibly not allow them to visit the hospital bed.

In recent years there are more and more people who choose not to get married, or certainly do not marry early; therefore, the potential for this scenario, whereby one cohabit is deemed not to be the next of kin, has risen. However, most hospitals are aware of this trend and will not prevent a partner from visiting simply because they are not strictly recognised as next of kin.

The question about the legal position of next of kin often arises in the FindLaw Community. For example, one member was unsure whether their friend would be classed as next of kin for their father, or the father’s estranged wife.

Next-of-kin card

Those who are concerned that their partner may not be considered next of kin may wish to carry a next-of-kin card, which details the people who should be contacted in an emergency. By placing your partner’s name on such a card, you are less likely to have problems.

If you are concerned about who may be contacted in the case of an emergency, you could contact your GP to see who is named on your hospital record as your next of kin.

Generally, hospitals tend to be more lenient about contacting cohabiters who may not strictly be your next of kin; however, should you have any concerns you could contact a solicitor to see if they can help you with a ‘next of kin’ card detailing who should be contacted in an emergency.

However, this card does not have to follow any specific form so long as it demonstrates your wishes, so it is not necessary to go to the expense of seeing a solicitor.

Related links:
Read about what happens when a person dies without leaving a will (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)

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