What does “next of kin” mean, and who is yours, legally speaking? Let’s take a look.


What does next of kin mean?

The term “next of kin” has traditionally been used to refer to a person’s closest living relative. But – despite the fact that people use it a lot – there’s no official definition for next of kin in UK law.

As such, the rules on who can be your next of kin and what they can do is different in different contexts. Here’s a simple guide to help out:

Who is next of kin when someone dies?


Who is your next of kin when you’re in hospital?

The short answer is: whoever you would like it to be. When you’re admitted to a hospital, the staff will usually ask you who your next of kin is. It’s perfectly fine to name a close friend instead of a relative, if you’d prefer.

If you are admitted to hospital unconscious, the staff will contact a close relative to ask them to act as your next of kin. They’ll usually pick your spouse, partner, children or a parent.

You can keep the wrong person from being chosen as your next of kin by carrying a card stating your preference in your wallet.


Next of kin responsibilities in a hospital

During a hospital stay, your next of kin will be contacted and kept up to date on your condition. If you’re unconscious, they may be asked for advice on what your wishes might be, but they cannot consent to or refuse any treatments on your behalf.

If you die in hospital, the bereavement team will contact the person acting as your next of kin so that they can collect your belongings and start making arrangements for the funeral.

Being named as next of kin in a hospital doesn’t give someone the right to administer your estate or inherit it after you die. There’s a different set of rules …


Who is the next of kin when someone dies?

If someone has a will, the person named as the executor will be in charge of settling their estate after they die, and the people named as beneficiaries will inherit.

When someone dies without a will, the person or people legally considered to be their closest relative(s) can apply for the right to settle the estate. This close relative is often unofficially referred to as the next of kin.

Here’s who the next of kin is when someone dies, in order:

1) Their spouse or civil partner

If the person who has died was married or in a civil partnership, their spouse or civil partner would be considered their next of kin, even if they were no longer living as a couple.

2) Direct descendants

The person who has died may not have a living spouse, but perhaps they have children. This could include a legally adopted child, but it does not apply to step-children if there is no will that names them.

3) Parents

If the person who has died was unmarried and had no children, it may fall to their parents to administer the estate.

4) Siblings

If there are no living parents but the person who has died has living siblings, the business of settling the estate falls to them. In Scottish intestacy law, siblings and parents have equal rights to administer an estate when someone dies.

From this point on, the rules on who can administer the estate as next of kin vary depending on where you are. The UK government provides a useful online tool for working out who the next of kin is, and what they might inherit, here.


Want to make sure the right person inherits your estate? You can make a simple legally-binding will today with our online will maker. It’s legally binding and takes just 10 minutes.

Print this guide