A person's next of kin
(NOK) is that person's closest living blood
relative or relatives. Some countries, such as the United States, have a legal definition of "next of kin". In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, "next of kin" may have no legal definition and may not necessarily refer to blood relatives at all.
In some legal systems, rights regarding inheritance
(which imply a decision-making capacity — for example, in a medical emergency — where no clear will or instructions
have been given, and where the person has no spouse) flow to the closest relative (regardless of the age, with a representative appointed if a minor), usually a child, a parent or a sibling. However, there are people without any close adult
relatives and, in such a case, decision-making power often flows to a nephew
, first cousin
, aunt, uncle
For example, if a person dies intestate
, the laws of some jurisdictions require distribution of the estate to the deceased
's spouse or children. However, if there are none of these, the estate can often be distributed to the next closest group of living relatives, whether they be parents, grandparents, first cousins
, aunts and uncles, or second cousins
in extreme cases. If a person dies intestate with no identifiable next of kin, the person's estate generally escheats (i.e., legally reverts) to the government.
In cases of medical emergency, where a person is incapable (either legally because of age or mental infirmity
, or because they are unconscious) of making decisions for themselves and they have no spouse or children, the next of kin may participate in medical decisions made by medical personnel
, subject to the specific laws of the jurisdiction.
The inability of persons who are not in a legal marriage to make decisions with respect to the care of a live-in partner has resulted in many jurisdictions giving live-in partners rights equivalent to a spouse in such situations, even though most jurisdictions still do not require non-spouses to be made beneficiaries of estates (it is improper
in most jurisdictions to disinherit
a spouse). The inability of same-sex partners to have rights with respect to a partner's medical care or funeral arrangements over and above those of the next-of-kin is one of the main reasons behind litigation to require same-sex marriage or its equivalent.
For the purposes of next of kin, adopted children are treated as blood relatives. However, relatives by marriage are never considered next of kin.