Understanding the legal rights of Next of Kin and Executors versus the concept of "Senior Next of Kin" is crucial when dealing with matters after the loss of a loved one. In this topic, we'll explain these rights and clarify the roles and responsibilities involved.

What is a Next of Kin?

The term "next of kin" is used to describe the closest family members of a person. These are the relatives who have the strongest family ties through blood or marriage. The specific individuals considered next of kin may differ depending on the circumstances, but they usually include spouses, children, parents, siblings, and other close family members. Next of kin also often play a role in making decisions for someone who is unable to make decisions on their own, especially in situations like medical emergencies.

To gain further insight into the responsibilities of a next of kin, you can head here to learn more.

What is a Senior Next of Kin?

In Australia, there is no specific legal definition of 'next of kin,' but there is an order that is commonly followed to determine who is considered as such. According to the Coroners Act 2009, "Senior next of kin" of a deceased person means:

  • the deceased person’s spouse, or
  • if the deceased person did not have a spouse or a spouse is not available – any of the deceased person’s children who are adults, or
  • if the deceased person did not have a spouse or child or a spouse or child is not available – either of the deceased person’s parents, or
  •  if the deceased person did not have a spouse, child or living parent or a spouse, child or parent is not available – any of the deceased person’s brothers or sisters who are adults, or
  • if the deceased person did not have a spouse, child, living parent, brother or sister or a spouse, child, parent, brother or sister is not available:
  • any person who is named as an executor in the deceased person’s will, or
  • any person who was the deceased person’s legal personal representative immediately before the deceased person’s death.

What is an Executor?

An executor is someone chosen by a person in their will to ensure that their wishes are followed and their assets are managed after they pass away. The executor's responsibility involves handling the legal and financial matters of the deceased person's estate. This includes paying debts, dividing assets, and carrying out any specific instructions mentioned in the will. 

Executors have a legal and ethical duty to act in the best interests of both the deceased individual and the beneficiaries of the estate. It's important to note that executors may or may not be the next of kin, as the appointment is determined by the preferences expressed by the deceased person in their will.

What is the difference between a Next of Kin and Executor?

If someone has made a valid will before they died, the person they chose as the executor of the will takes care of most of the tasks that would normally be handled by the next of kin if there was no will.

Legal rights of Next of Kins, Executors and Senior Next of Kins.

Next of Kin.

The legal rights of next of kin in Australia can differ depending on the particular circumstances and relevant laws. Generally, next of kin have certain rights and responsibilities that encompass the following areas:

  • Decision-making: Next of kin may possess the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of someone who is incapable of making decisions for themselves, particularly in matters related to healthcare and treatment.
  • Inheritance: When an individual passes away without a valid will (intestate), the next of kin typically hold the rights to inherit the deceased person's estate according to the laws of intestacy.
  • Guardianship: Next of kin may have the option to serve as legal guardians for minor children or individuals who are unable to care for themselves.
  • Funeral arrangements: It is often the responsibility of the next of kin to make funeral and burial arrangements for a deceased family member.


An Executor has the authority to administer the deceased person's estate. They make important decisions, pay debts, distribute assets, and follow the instructions in the will. Executors may receive fees, have legal protection, and must act in the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries. Seeking legal guidance is advisable for fulfilling their duties properly.

Senior Next of Kin.

In the event of someone’s passing and if a next of kin cannot be identified, the coroner has the authority to determine the individual who should be recognized as the senior next of kin. A senior next of kin is an individual who is designated as the primary point of contact following the suspicious, violent, or sudden death of another person, leading to the involvement of a coroner. A coroner is responsible for conducting investigations into such deaths to determine the circumstances and causes.

The senior next of kin possesses certain exclusive rights that are not available to anyone else. However, apart from these specific rights, being the senior next of kin is similar to being a family member who is considered an "interested person."

The exclusive rights granted to the senior next of kin under the Act are as follows:

  • The right to object to an autopsy.
  • The right to object to exhumation.
  • The right to be notified of the coroner's decision regarding the non-holding of an inquest.
  • The right to request that the coroner not hold an inquest in the case of a workplace death.

It's important to note that the coroner's determination of who holds the position of senior next of kin only applies within the context of the coroner's court. It does not grant that person any additional legal rights or special status in other legal proceedings related to matters such as wills, property, or any other issues.

Final thoughts on the legal rights of Next of Kins and Executors vs "Senior Next of Kin".

In Australia, both next of kin and executors play crucial roles in estate administration, with important legal rights and responsibilities. Next of kin have rights in decision-making, inheritance, guardianship, and funeral arrangements. Executors are appointed to fulfill the deceased's wishes and possess legal authority in estate administration. While "senior next of kin" holds specific rights in coroner-related cases, it doesn't provide additional legal status elsewhere. Seeking legal guidance is vital to effectively fulfill these roles and ensure compliance with the law.

To learn more, visit the Bare Law website or chat with our Legal team for a free consultation, on 1800 959 371.