What Does Next of Kin Mean?

Nicola Middlemiss

Nicola Middlemiss

18/05/2022

Next of kin means the person (or people) most closely related to you. Here’s why it matters when it comes to wills and inheritance.

Next of kin means a person’s closest living relative or relatives – including their spouse or de facto partner. 

Typically, your next of kin is the person who will be asked to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to and you haven’t legally nominated someone else. 

They might be asked to decide on medical treatment, make funeral arrangements, or administer your estate, for example.

There are ways to remove these rights or obligations from your next of kin though. We’ll talk about them in this guide.

This guide includes answers to:

What does next of kin mean?
Who is my next of kin?
What responsibilities do my next of kin have?
What rights do my next of kin have?
Can I change my next of kin?
What happens if I don’t have any next of kin?
FAQs

What does next of kin mean?

Next of kin is an old phrase which just means a person’s closest living relative or relatives.

Usually, that will be a person’s spouse, de facto partner, child or parent. But it could even be a grandparent, auntie, uncle, sibling or cousin.

Unless you specify otherwise, your next of kin might be asked to make medical decisions on your behalf, arrange your funeral, or manage your estate after you die.

If you die without a will, your assets will go to your next of kin. However, in many cases, your assets will be shared between multiple relatives, not just the most senior next of kin.

Who is my next of kin?

In Australia, there’s no formal legal definition of ‘next of kin’ but there is an order which is typically followed when determining who they are:

● Spouse or de facto partner
● Eldest adult son or daughter
● Parents
● Adult siblings
● Person named in the will as an executor
● Legal personal representative

If you die and a next of kin can’t be identified, the coroner may determine who should be the most senior next of kin instead. Usually they will stop at your first cousins or their direct descendants.

What responsibilities do my next of kin have?

If you die without a will, your next of kin may be responsible for notifying family members of your death, registering your death within 30 days, arranging your funeral and finalising financial affairs such as tax returns or debts.

They may also be responsible for decisions about organ donation and post-mortem examinations.

However, you can remove all of these responsibilities from your next of kin by writing a will as well as appointing an enduring guardian and power of attorney with your relevant state.

What rights do my next of kin have?

If you die without a will, your next of kin are usually entitled to a share of your assets.

If you do not appoint other people to make decisions on your behalf, your next of kin may be able to make lifestyle, medical, and financial decisions for you.

Can I change my next of kin?

No. Next of kin describes a type of relationship, so you can’t change it.

However, you can legally name other people as decision makers for financial, medical and lifestyle choices. This means your next of kin will not have the same right or obligations.

If you want someone other than your next of kin to make medical and lifestyle decisions on your behalf, you should talk to your healthcare provider about making an advanced care directive and you should nominate an enduring guardian with your relevant state.

If you don’t want your next of kin to be responsible for financial decisions, you should appoint a power of attorney or enduring power of attorney with your relevant state.

If you don’t want your next of kin to administer your estate or claim assets after you die, you should write a will which says otherwise.

What happens if I don’t have any next of kin?

If you die without a will and you don’t have any next of kin, the Australian government will arrange a funeral for you.

Usually, your assets will be distributed to distant relatives but if none can be found, they’ll go to the government.

However, if you write a will, you can choose where your assets go and you can make arrangements in advance for your funeral.

For example, you may want to give your assets to close friends or donate them to your favourite charities.

FAQs

Who is my next of kin if I am:

(a) Married? Your spouse.

(b) In a de facto relationship? Your de facto partner.

(c) Single with children? Your eldest child.

(d) Single without children? Your parents if they are still alive. If not, your eldest sibling.

(e) Single without any family? Your executor (as named in your will) or your legal personal representative.

If I have a will and an executor, what can my next of kin do?

Your executor will be in charge of administering your estate and arranging your funeral in line with your will.

Your next of kin may still be able to make certain medical decisions relating to organ donations and autopsies after your passing though. Talk to your healthcare providers if you want to change this arrangement.

If I don’t have a will, what can my next of kin do?

If you don’t have a will, your next of kin will have the right to apply for a Letter of Administration from the courts to manage and distribute your assets.

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