Who exactly is your next of kin?
Who is your next of kin? It’s a question that often arises in moments of crises, when your unmarried partner finds themselves trying to get access to your bedside in a hospital, or to find out treatment details from medical staff.
Legal definition of next of kin
It is therefore surprising to learn that there is no legal definition of ‘next of kin’, as the Royal Free Hospital London website explains:
“There is therefore no reason that your partner shouldn’t be treated as your ‘next of kin’ despite the fact that you are not married. However, in practice hospitals have generally used spouses and close blood relatives to define next of kin.”
Most hospitals will ask patients to declare whom they would like to be considered as their next of kin. However, this would clearly not be possible with someone who is gravely ill or unconscious. So, the Royal Free Hospital Trust has created a next of kin card:
“To make it absolutely clear to medical specialists who you have chosen to be your next of kin and how to contact the person … If there is any disagreement about your next of kin information while you are unconscious, it can be called upon to prove your choice.”
Next of kin status and medical consent
However, status as next of kin should not be confused with giving consent to medical treatment for your loved one. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau:
“No one is entitled to give consent to medical treatment for another adult unless they are unconscious or unable to give consent through mental incapacity. However, in practice, doctors do usually discuss decisions with the patient’s family and this will normally include your partner.”
Other organisations have different policies, such as insurance companies, so it is always advisable to check and ensure that your partner is named as next of kin if required.
Rights and liabilities of next of kin
A spouse, whether opposite sex or same sex, will have authority to act as next of kin. However, you can nominate anyone as next of kin. Next of kin do not have any legal obligations, and have no claim on your finances or possessions in any way. Equally, they do not have any rights over your will. If you wish your next of kin to inherit, and they are not your spouse, civil partner or a blood relative, you will need to specify your wishes in a legal will.
Organisations that might require details of a next of kin include:
- Your employer
- Your GP
- Medical staff in the event of an emergency (see above)
- A Coroner (consent for a post mortem examination can only be given by the next of kin)
- A Registrar of Births and Deaths (only next of kin can obtain a medical certificate after death)
Next of kin, separation and divorce
For married couples, the spouse will always be considered next of kin, and technically this does not change if you are separated but not divorced. So, in theory, your estranged but not divorced partner could potentially be making important life decisions for you. For many, that alone is a good reason to move forward with a formal divorce rather than just separating and going your own ways.
To discuss any aspect of divorce, including appointment of next of kin, call us and book a free 30 minute consultation with our family law team. We’re happy to help.