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Answers to Common Questions and Situations

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What Are Next of Kin Rights and Responsibilities?

The “next of kin” term usually refers to the closest living blood relative, such as someone’s spouse, who will assume responsibility for decisions on behalf of the individual in case they become unable to make them themselves.

This issue could arise both after a person dies and prior to their death, whether due to illness, incapacitation, or injury.

We all know that relationships between family members are essential, but did you know that they can also have legal implications?

For example, when medical care facilities make decisions about your health, they will contact your closest relative if you are not able to decide for yourself. When the probate courts handle intestate succession, just being a family member of the deceased does not automatically entitle you to inherit property. 

In this article, we will explore what the term “next of kin” means from a legal and probate point of view, what obligations and responsibilities you might have if you are the next of kin, and what you can do to protect your legal rights when dealing with decedent’s estate issues.

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Image by pressfoto on Freepik

What Is Next of Kin Meaning in Law? 

Individuals who count as next of kin include those with a blood relationship, such as biological children, or those with a legal standing, such as spouses or adopted children. 

What Is Next of Kin Meaning in Probate? 

A person’s next of kin often precedes other family members in inheritance cases if the deceased didn’t leave a valid last will and testament.

That’s why it’s important to determine who may be considered heirs when handling estate management.

Definition of heir

Under Georgia law, an heir is the person legally entitled to inherit part or all of the estate from the deceased if the late person did not have a valid last will and testament.

In this situation, the heir receives a share of the deceased’s inheritance according to the state’s laws, where the estate property is probated.

Definition of intestate

Intestate refers to the situations in which the estate is administered under the provisions of Georgia law when there is not a valid will.

The term intestate is often used in estates to refer to situations where the deceased did not leave a valid last will and testament.

When someone dies intestate, or the will presented to the court is deemed invalid, the estate goes through a probate process, and the state intestacy law determines it.

Next of Kin Examples

These are just a few possible examples that may apply to probate in Georgia, and they may receive the inheritance of the deceased in accordance with the state intestacy laws.

  • If the deceased was married when he/she passed and had no biological or adopted children, the surviving spouse would be seen as the late person’s closest living relative.
  • If the deceased was unmarried and had at least an adopted and biological child, then the surviving children would be considered the next of kin.
  • If the deceased and his/her partner were unmarried partners and had biological or adopted children, the children would be seen as the next of kin. If one of the children had passed away before the deceased and had children of their own, then the next of kin status transfers to the grandchildren.
  • If the deceased was unmarried and never had children, their parents are viewed as the next of kin.
  • If the deceased was not married and never had children, and their parents were deceased, then their siblings qualify to be viewed as next of kin. If one of their siblings passed before the deceased and had children on their own, then their children may also be viewed as next of kin.

There are many other examples and scenarios to consider when determining who might be the next of kin in Georgia probate, and it is best to have an experienced probate attorney assist you through that process.

Is the wife next of kin? 

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Image by Freepik

Under Georgia state laws, who qualifies as next of kin depends on the biological and adopted relations with the decedent’s survivors.

Generally, the surviving spouse is considered next of kin if the deceased was married when he passed and did not have any biological or adopted children.

When the late person also has children, both the surviving spouse and the children will be equally entitled to inheriting property, but the spouse’s share may not be less than 1/3.

If you are not married, who’s your next of kin? 

When the decedent person was not married at the time of death, establishing who the next of kin is depends on their legal relationship and other blood relations with the decedent.

However, if the deceased was unmarried and had children (both natural-born and adopted children), they are considered the next of kin and would be entitled to receive from the deceased’s estate after creditors are satisfied if there is no will.

Order of Precedence in Georgia

According to state law, all estate assets are liable for the payment of claims on the estate in a specific order. This order must comply with legal provisions and depends on whether the deceased left a will.

If the deceased left a will, and it was validated and accepted by the Probate Court

The will sets out the beneficiaries who will be the deceased’s heirs and the amounts or percentages of the estate each beneficiary should receive. After the personal representative pays the creditors, the executor will distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries per the will.

If the deceased did not leave a will

Once the probate court has appointed an administrator to manage the inheritance, they will settle the deceased’s estate and pay the late person’s debts, including the medical treatments. Once the creditors are satisfied, the administrator will distribute the remaining assets to the heirs per the intestate laws of Georgia.

Other considerations may also be involved when determining the order of precedence in a probate situation, and it is best to have an experienced probate attorney assist you with this process.

Non-probate assets would not be included in this order of precedence as they are distributed outside of probate.

What Are Next of Kin Rights And Responsibilities?

next-of-kin-meaning-rights-and-responsibilities
Photo by Pattanaphong Khuankaew via Canva

If a person does not have a medical directive or power of attorney in place before they die, the next of kin meaning may be used by healthcare facilities to determine a primary point of contact.

For example, if you are in a hospital or a nursing home, the facility staff may refer to the next of kin to make certain decisions on behalf of the patient.

After a person’s death, the term “next of kin” becomes much more specific in terms of the person it refers to, as they may be responsible for registering the death, making funeral arrangements, and beginning the process of probate while following the laws of succession in the case of an intestate death, called the Rules of Intestacy.

These trace the deceased’s bloodline to identify who may be responsible for managing the estate if there is no will and how it should be divided. If appointed as Administrator over the estate, some of their responsibilities might be:

Distributing assets fairly

If appointed as Administrator over the estate, the next of kin is responsible for ensuring that the deceased’s estate is fairly distributed according to intestate laws in Georgia. This includes ensuring that an Administrator is appointed, the estate is managed correctly, all debts are paid, and the inheritance is fairly distributed.

Representing family members in probate court, if necessary

The next of kin may be required to represent other family members in legal matters, such as guardianship proceedings or inheritance disputes. They may also be asked to represent any minor children left behind by the deceased person.

Trusts management

It is the responsibility of the next of kin to ensure that any trusts that exist are administered according to the wishes of the deceased and following the law. This may include distributing assets, managing finances, dealing with creditors, and other tasks associated with estate administration.

Can You Change Your Next of Kin? 

The next of kin can change at many different points in an individual’s life. For example, if an individual gets married and has no children, their spouse may now be considered their next of kin instead of his parents.

Another example might be if you are adopted by someone else, and their family becomes your next of kin.

If you are in a probate situation and trying to determine who the next of kin may be, it is best to have the assistance of an attorney. Our experienced lawyers can help you solve this issue, so please feel free to reach out to our office for assistance.

What If You Don’t Have a Next of Kin?

It would be unlikely that an individual would not have a next of kin. Most people will have a next of kin, even if that is a second or third cousin they were unaware of.

Our firm assists in situations in which it is necessary to track down the estate’s heirs. We have many resources available to assist in these complicated situations. We recommend contacting our office for a consultation if this is a situation that you are dealing with.

Bottom Line

Understanding who is considered your next of kin is essential to ensuring that your interests are best represented in legal matters that may arise both during life and after death.

Although next of kin meaning typically refers to blood relatives or spouses, in certain situations provided for by the law of succession, it may also include more distant family members. In addition, it is essential to understand in depth what obligations and responsibilities a next of kin might have to ensure that your wishes are respected during a potential crisis or death. Clear communication and seeking advice can help the next of kin navigate these responsibilities and provide a smoother transition during challenging times.

 

Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & ceo

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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