When a loved one dies, a next of kin is usually responsible for making legal decisions, funeral arrangements and administering the deceased estate. This article explains what the term ‘next of kin’ means and how it is relevant throughout the process of estate planning and making a Will.

What is the meaning of next of kin?

What is the meaning of next of kin? Why are they important?

A person’s next of kin is their closest living relative. In Australia, a next of kin typically refers to a person’s spouse, de facto partner or closest living blood relative. The term is typically used on estate planning documents such as a Last Will & Testament. When a loved one dies, a next of kin is often the first person to be notified (unless another person is listed as the emergency contact).The next of kin will often need to make important decisions, and assume certain responsibilities, about the deceased person’s affairs and estate.

What is the legal order of next of kin?

Australia is yet to officially provide a formal legal definition for the term 'next of kin'. However, there are several pieces of legislation that vary between states and territories that can help you determine who a senior next of kin could be. A person’s next of kin is typically their spouse or closest living relative. The following hierarchy determines who is the most senior next of kin (in order):

  • spouse or domestic partner;
  • adult son or daughter (eldest surviving takes seniority);
  • parent;
  • adult sibling;
  • person named in the Will as an executor;
  • person who, immediately before the death, was a personal representative of the deceased person;
  • person determined by the Coroner to be taken as the senior next of kin because of the closeness of the person's relationship with the deceased person immediately before his or her death.

If you’re planning a funeral, you can get a free quote here, or call 1800 071 167 any time of day or night.

What are the responsibilities of a next of kin?

A will nominates an executor to take responsibility of a person’s estate when they die. However, if a person died without making a valid Will, also known as 'dying intestate', their next of kin usually assumes responsibility for the estate.

To avoid dying intestate, make or update your Will.

If a person died without a Will, the next of kin is also responsible for applying for a grant of Probate, so that they may be named as the administrator of the estate. As administrator, they can access accounts, sell property and distribute assets to any beneficiaries, including themselves. If there is no Will or executor and the next of kin is willing to take on the responsibility, their duties generally include the following:

  • Making decisions concerning organ donation and post-mortem examinations for the Coroner (if applicable);
  • Notifying family and friends of the death;
  • Registering the death and providing details to authorities within 30 days;
  • Arranging the funeral;
  • Finalising the deceased person’s financial affairs;
  • Administering the deceased estate: establishing the value of assets and distribution to the deceased person’s beneficiaries.

The next of kin is, however, not legally obligated to assume responsibility of the estate administration process. To learn more, visit the Bare Law website or chat with our estate team for a free consultation, on 1800 959 371.

This article is not legal advice. You should speak with a legal professional for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.

Grief and bereavement support

If you’re struggling to cope with grief after a loss, there is help available. You can reach out to a close friend or family member, or speak with your GP. Alternatively, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides excellent information on bereavement services available throughout Australia. But for more immediate help call Lifeline on 13 11 14.