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"Next of Kin" & Your Estate Plan - What You Need to Know

What does "next of kin" mean? And what role does next of kin play in the estate planning process? This article reviews all next of kin rights, and more.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Next of Kin and wondered exactly what it refers to? This legal phrase is most commonly applied in Estate Law after someone dies without a Will. The exact definition used in determining Next of Kin will change from state to state -- but one thing is always consistent: Next of Kin is not a reliable way to ensure your end of life wishes are followed. 

If you are encouraging a family member to create an Estate Plan or perhaps beginning to work on your own, learning more about the meaning of Next of Kin can be helpful. Keep reading for a better idea of how and why this framework is used in Estate Law:

What Does “Next of Kin” Mean?

Next of Kin means the closest living relative by blood. This definition typically excludes spouses, and instead focuses on children, grandchildren, siblings, and parents. The Next of Kin meaning is most commonly used in Intestate Succession Law to determine how assets will be distributed should someone die without a Will. 

While the Next of Kin definition does exclude spouses, most states allow a surviving spouse to be first in line to inherit your Estate. If someone is unmarried, divorced, or their spouse has also passed, the state will determine the Next of Kin. The specific family order used in Intestate Succession will vary from state to state. 

Who is Next of Kin When Someone Dies? 

When someone dies, their Next of Kin will typically be direct offspring: children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. For the purpose of Succession, Next of Kin does include legally adopted children though there may be slight differences regarding step-children (depending on if they are legally adopted or not). 

If the deceased person has no children, Next of Kin will move to parents. After this point, Next of Kin includes “Collateral Heirs” or siblings of the deceased. Collateral Heirs can also refer to nieces and nephews. 

What Are Next of Kin Rights?

If you are named Next of Kin for a deceased relative, there are a few different things you can expect if the person died without a Will. Generally speaking, there are no new legal “rights” as part of this designation; however, you may be responsible for the following:

  • Make Medical Decisions: If someone becomes incapacitated without a Will or health care directive, medical decisions will typically fall into the hands of the Next of Kin. 

  • File for Probate: Next of Kin is responsible for initiating the probate process. At this point they will typically be named the Administrator if there is no contest over who to place in charge within the family. 

  • Arrange the Funeral: Another responsibility of Next of Kin is to make any funeral arrangements. Hopefully this person has an idea of what their relative wanted (burial, cremation, etc.) and can follow their wishes accordingly. 

Commonly Asked Questions About Next of Kin

Unfortunately, dying without a Will can leave a lot of unanswered questions -- but we can at least give you an idea of the legal obstacles ahead. If you have recently been named as a Next of Kin relative or are trying to learn more about the process in general, here are a few commonly asked questions to help. 

Who is Your Next of Kin if You Are Single?

If you are single your Next of Kin would be any direct offspring you have. If you do not have any children, your Next of Kin would be determined by your state’s succession laws. Typically that would include parents, siblings, and nieces, or nephews. If the court was unable to determine a Next of Kin, your Estate would then become state property.

Can a Friend Be Your Next of Kin?

A friend would not be considered your Next of Kin under any circumstances. This is because the exact definition only includes blood relatives. The best way to include a friend or non-relative in your Estate Plan is by taking the necessary steps to write a Will. 

Next of Kin and Estate Planning Guidelines

The Next of Kin definition is typically only used when someone dies without an Estate Plan. There is no way to guarantee your last wishes are followed by relying solely on your state’s Intestate Succession Laws. Instead, it is widely recommended that you create a legally valid Will (and Trust if necessary). 

As you establish the framework of your Estate Plan, you can use the Next of Kin meaning to incorporate relatives into your Will. This order can sometimes be helpful if you are unsure how to delegate funds and assets. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you want all of these plans formalized and written down. 

Next of Kin is used to determine an individual’s closest living blood relative, should they die without an Estate Plan. This designation can place a lot of responsibility in the hands of a child, parent, or sibling -- and unfortunately they might not know the best way to proceed. Luckily, a comprehensive Estate Plan can help clarify your end of life wishes and take the weight off of your loved ones. Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or Chat with a live member support representative!