Myths of next of kin

The title next of kin carries several misconceptions. Probate Executive Alanna White, part of our Wills and Probate team, helps clarify the most common myths of next of kin.

Myth 1: My next of kin must be a blood relative if I’m not married.

False. Who is the next of kin to an unmarried patient is not defined by law. In practice, hospitals have generally used spouses and close blood relatives to define next of kin, but will accept a nominated next of kin such as a partner, friend or neighbour as long as the nominated person agreed to it.

Myth 2: I don’t need documentation stating who my next of kin is.

True and false. Documentation is not required as the hospital will normally ask you to nominate who is your next of kin formally on your admission to the hospital. However, if you are unable to say (e.g. unconscious), the hospital will try to work out who is the person closest to you. If your circumstances are unusual, e.g. you consider a close friend as your next of kin rather than a parent, they may get it wrong and the person you consider closest to you may not get any information about your condition. Royal Free Hospital London suggests that this can easily be solved by creating a next of kin card, clearly stating who is your next of kin. A template for the card can be found at the bottom of this website. Make sure to keep the card on you, for example by putting it in your wallet.

Myth 3: If a loved one is unconscious or loses mental capacity, I have the right to make decisions and manage their affairs as I am their next of kin.

False. Being someone's next of kin has no legal rights or special responsibilities. The title is primarily used for emergency services to know who to keep informed about an individual’s condition and treatment. To ensure that you can make decisions and manage your loved one’s affairs, you must be appointed as their attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). This will give you legal rights to make decisions on behalf of your loved one, whether related to their financial affairs or health and welfare.

Myth 4: If I lose the ability to manage my own affairs before appointing a power of attorney, my next of kin can easily do so on my behalf.

False. It is true that your next of kin can apply to become your deputy after you lose ability to manage your own affairs, but it is far from easy. Your next of kin would have to apply to the Court of Protection to gain rights. If more than one person want the rights to manage your affairs it can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles. In some cases of disagreement, the court appoints a professional deputy with no personal relationship to you to manage your affairs. It is therefore strongly advised to carefully plan for your future and appoint your attorneys to spare you and your family from unnecessary costs and stress.

If you need help with LPAs, Court of Protection or wills, give Alanna a call on 01329 822 333.

For more information about LPAs, check out this article or visit our Managing Your Affairs section.

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