Next of kin

Next of kin and cohabitation

In certain situations, for example, entering hospital or completing a life insurance form, a person may be asked to give the name of her/his next of kin. Next of kin is not defined by the law. However, in practice, hospitals and other organisations have generally recognised spouses and close blood relatives as next of kin but sometimes excluded cohabiting partners.

Organisations tend to be more flexible than they used to be. For example, prisons will usually accept the name of a cohabiting partner as the most appropriate person to contact if something happens to the prisoner.

Hospitals will usually ask a person to nominate a next of kin formally on admission to hospital. A hospital will usually accept the person named as next of kin. Most hospitals recognise that someone's partner is probably the closest person, whatever the gender.

Nobody is entitled to give consent to medical treatment for another adult unless that person is unconscious or unable to give consent through mental incapacity. However, in practice, doctors do usually discuss decisions with the patient's family and this should not usually exclude a cohabiting partner.

If an organisation refuses to accept the name of a cohabiting partner, there is little the client can do about this other than press for a change of policy.

Next of kin and civil partnerships

A civil partner always has authority to act as next of kin.