The Post, Legal Corner October-November 2019
Next of Kin is a term usually used to refer to your nearest blood relative, or in the case of a married couple or a civil partnership it usually means husband, wife or civil partner.
Many people assume that being next of kin means that you automatically have the right to make decisions and deal with the affairs of your loved one. However, in England and Wales next of kin does not have any automatic legal status.
What does “Next of Kin” mean?
Next of kin is a title that is primarily used in order for emergency services to know who to keep informed about an individual’s condition and treatment. The title can be given, by you, to anyone from your partner to blood relatives and even friends. It is also possible to name more than one person as your next of kin.
Next of kin means nothing legally, with the exception of children aged under 18. The next of kin of a child under 18 may be legally entitled to make decisions for or on behalf of the child.
Next of Kin do not have any automatic legal rights
Being named as next of kin in medical records does not give you legal rights to make decisions for a person who is unable to make their own decisions. This can create difficulties – if you do not have any legal rights, you cannot make decisions on their behalf.
What if you have not given rights to your Next of Kin?
If you have not appointed an Attorney, your next of kin could apply to the Court of Protection to gain rights to make decisions on your behalf. An application can only be made if you have lost mental capacity. If the application is successful the Court will appoint the person as your Deputy and they will be authorised by the Court of Protection to make decisions on your behalf.
How to give legal rights to Next of Kin
If you want your next of kin to have the power to make decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions yourself, then you need to appoint them as your Attorney(s) under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). There are two different types of LPA and you can appoint a person to make decisions about financial affairs or about health and welfare, or both.
Being appointed as an Attorney means that you can make decisions on behalf of a person when they are unable to make decisions themselves. Having an LPA in place gives you the opportunity to select the person or persons who you believe would be most suited to carrying out your wishes and ensuring your future affairs are looked after.
Dealing with an Estate without a Will
If you die without making a Will your next of kin can apply to be appointed as an Administrator of your estate. This involves applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration. Once appointed as an Administrator you gain the legal rights to access the person’s bank account and other assets. When there are several next of kin who are all entitled it may create some difficulty and contention if there is no agreement.
For more information drop into one of our free legal clinics at Kingsbridge, Dartmouth or Salcombe library, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01548 288008.