Who is Considered Next of Kin When Someone Dies?

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Next of Kin signifies relations of a person who died intestate. In other words, it usually refers to the decedent’s closest living relative(s) as individuals who take precedence over others in inheritance cases, especially in matters where there is no will drafted. Inheritances – assets that individuals bequeath or give to their survivors after they die – can include cash, investments, personal property, etc.

Generally, having a will makes the inheritance process straightforward when someone dies because their instructions regarding what to do with their property upon their death are in the will itself.

Most wills have clear, demonstrable intent and are signed by a person of legal and testamentary capacity, and in the presence of at least two witnesses. With that said, most people die without a will, making estate distribution more complicated.

Intestate succession occurs when the decedent dies without a will, and the state has to determine who inherits their remaining assets, or, if they do write a will but leave some possessions out of the document, the state distributes assets not named in the will. Each state has different laws on determining who inherits property when someone dies without a will.

Should the decedent’s will be validated in probate court, next of kin considerations dissipate because the instructions on how to distribute their property, as well as the beneficiaries, are clearly stated in the will.

How is Next of Kin Determined?

Next of kin designations vary by jurisdiction, from county to county, as well as from state to state. The process of distributing the decedent’s assets upon their death falls to probate court. Probate court is a specialized type of court that deals with properties and debts upon the death of a person; whether it is to determine the validity of the decedent’s will or to distribute their assets in lieu of not having a will. Read our article about probate.

Generally, when someone dies, their spouse becomes the next of kin; postnuptial agreements made in the wake of a divorce could terminate inheritability for a former spouse for the purposes of next of kin transmission. If the person dies without a spouse or if the spouse predeceased the decedent, then their next of kin are their children; this can go further down the line into grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. If there is neither a spouse or children, their parents (if they are still alive) would become their next of kin. If the parents are no longer alive, then the decedent’s so-called collateral heirs, such as brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, are considered next of kin.

Who Becomes Next of Kin?

After the spouse, next of kin usually includes, but is not limited to, those with a blood relation, such as children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, or grandparents. This can also include individuals with legal standing, such as adopted children. If no one is identified as the decedent’s next of kin, their estate becomes state property.

What if There Are Assets in Another State?

The law of the state where the decedent primarily resided supersedes the next of kin laws in other states where the decedent may have other assets.


The determination of next of kin varies considerably from state to state because who is considered next of kin in cases of intestate succession are matters left to state law administrations. State laws establish next of kin relationships and inheritance priorities because states have complete authority over the distribution of property within their borders.

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