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Whos The Next Of Kin In Case Of Inheritance

By Spodek Law Group | January 17, 2024
(Last Updated On: January 17, 2024)

Who’s The Next Of Kin In Case Of Inheritance

When a person dies without a will, determining who the next of kin is becomes very important for inheritance purposes. The next of kin refers to the closest living blood relative of the deceased and they have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to inheriting assets from someone who died intestate (without a will). Understanding next of kin order can help simplify the probate process after someone passes away.

Defining Next of Kin

Typically, next of kin refers to the closest living blood relative of the deceased person. This is determined by degree of kinship. The order generally goes:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Cousins

So if the deceased was married, the spouse would be first in line to inherit assets. If there is no spouse, then any living children would be next in line. And so on down the family tree. State laws determine specifics around next of kin hierarchy and inheritance rights.

Rights and Responsibilities

In most states, the next of kin is responsible for making funeral arrangements when someone dies without an advance directive or will. They may also serve as the administrator of the estate if no executor was named. This involves tasks like:

  • Filing paperwork with the probate court
  • Notifying creditors
  • Paying valid claims against the estate
  • Distributing remaining assets to heirs

Serving as administrator can be a big job. Many next of kin choose to hire an estate attorney to help guide them through the process.

Kinship Level Potential Next of Kin
1st Level Spouse, children
2nd Level Parents, siblings
3rd Level Grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins

In terms of inheritance rights, the next of kin may be entitled to a share of assets that pass intestate. How much they inherit depends on which other kin are still living. For example, if a person dies with a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse would inherit 100% of the estate under most state laws. However, if there is a spouse and children, the spouse may only get 1/3 while the children divide up 2/3.

Finding Missing Beneficiaries

One challenge that comes up is locating missing next of kin after someone dies. This often happens when people lose touch with family over the years. As administrator, you may need to do some genealogy research to find missing beneficiaries.

Some tips include:

  • Search public records like census data
  • Post inquiries on genealogy message boards
  • Hire an heir search service
  • DNA testing services

The administrator is expected to make a reasonable effort to locate missing heirs before the estate can be closed. This protects inheritance rights and ensures assets go to rightful heirs according to state law.

Scenario Examples

Here are some examples of determining next of kin in different scenarios:

Example 1

  • John dies without a will
  • He has a wife, Lisa, but no children
  • Lisa is considered the next of kin as his surviving spouse
  • She inherits 100% of John’s estate

Example 2

  • Jane dies without a will
  • She has no living spouse or children
  • Her only surviving relatives are a sister and a mother
  • The sister and mother are considered next of kin
  • They likely inherit Jane’s estate in equal shares

Key Takeaways

Determining next of kin order is important for inheritance purposes when someone dies without a will. Key takeaways include:

  • Next of kin refers to closest living blood relatives
  • Spouses and children tend to have top priority
  • Next of kin may inherit a share of assets based on state law
  • They often handle estate administration tasks
  • Finding missing heirs is sometimes required

Having a clear understanding of next of kin hierarchy simplifies the probate process and ensures inheritance decisions adhere to state law. Consulting with a local probate attorney is highly recommended for anyone serving as an estate administrator after a family member dies without a will.


Here are some additional resources on next of kin and inheritance:

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