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Next of Kin: An Explainer (2020 Update)

Next of Kin: An Explainer (2020 Update)

A person's next of kin is their closest living family member who may assume certain responsibilities if something unexpected happens. Find out more here.

22nd June 2020

The term ‘next of kin’ refers to a person’s spouse, de facto partner or closest living blood relative. This term is often used on legal documents such as liability waivers and wills. A person’s next of kin will be notified if anything unexpected happens (unless alternate emergency contact information is provided). Where a deceased person has failed to make a will, their closest living relative will need to administer their estate.

While some countries such as the United States have legally defined Next of Kin (NoK), other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia have not. Despite this, it’s still a commonly used term that does carry some legal weight.


There are multiple situations where a next of kin may need to make an important decision. Often, they will be the first to be notified if something happens to you (unless you list a different emergency contact).

If someone dies without having left a valid will (intestate), the next of kin will first need to be identified. After this, they will need to arrange the funeral and determine what happens to the body. If no next of kin can be located, the State will need to make these arrangements. Where a will has been made, the terms of the will are enforced.


Intestacy is the term for the state of a person when they die without having made a valid will. Further, if someone dies ‘intestate’, it means that they did not have a valid will at the time of their death. Conversely, if someone dies having made a valid will, they are deemed to have died ‘testate’ and their estate can be distributed according to their wishes.

Who can be next of kin?

A person’s next of kin is their closest living relative. Although this usually applies to blood relatives, spouses and de facto partners are also included.

  • Parents and children
  • Spouses and de facto partners
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Grandparents
  • Cousins

Despite having no strict legal responsibilities per se, a person’s next of kin may have to make some decisions when certain situations arise.


A person’s next of kin will have to do certain things in certain situations. Some of these include:

  • Registering the person’s death
  • Making funeral arrangements
  • Making medical decisions
  • Looking after financial affairs
  • Notifying family members

Next of kin versus executor

For someone who has a valid will at their time of death, the executor of the will will assume most of the above responsibilities. An executor is the person who is responsible for ensuring that the terms of the Will are carried out. A next of kin will only take care of these matters where there is no will.

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Nina Marie Bishay

Nina is a Paralegal working in our content team, which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a passion for copyright law, her research focuses on small businesses, and how they can navigate convoluted legal procedures.