What is a next of kin dispute?

When a family member dies, the last thing you want is to deal with legal complications. Unfortunately, when it comes to distributing the deceasedโ€™s estate and arranging their funeral, there can be a number of difficulties – these conflicts are often referred to as a next of kin dispute.

In the UK, these kinds of disputes generally consist of arguments about what to do with a dead family member's estate and what to do with their body. While they can arise in a wide variety of circumstances, theyโ€™re most likely to arise if there is no clear will that stipulates how the estate should be distributed.

person signing document paper

What does next of kind mean, legally?

Legally speaking, the term next of kin is not a fixed or recognised one, except for when applied to children under the age of 18, where their next of kin is legally able to make decisions for the child.

However, itโ€™s often used to refer to a close blood relative or other family member who is likely to inherit someoneโ€™s estate. There are a lot of misconceptions about how this process should be carried out, and itโ€™s important to be as clear as possible to avoid emotional and legal complications.

How should funeral arrangements be made?

If someone has made a will, then that document generally contains some kind of stipulation on how they want their funeral to be carried out. However, the testatorโ€™s wishes when it comes to how the funeral is carried out are not strictly speaking legally binding.

The executor of the will normally speaks with the family of the individual in question, making it clear what the will states in order to avoid any unnecessary conflict. The family will not, however, have ownership of the body; the hospital may need to take it if it is deemed infectious, and the coroner will need to determine the cause of death.

How can disputes be resolved?

In certain cases, itโ€™s possible that the will is challenged in terms of its validity. If the court has to intervene, this generally means that things have escalated quite far – the courtโ€™s priority will be to ensure that the body is disposed of in a dignified manner. 

In most cases, it will be preferable to sort things out via some sort of mediation process, perhaps with the help of a legally knowledgeable professional mediator. They will be able to lay out the legal duties and rights of all parties involved, and help to achieve a resolution to the situation as soon as possible. 

Itโ€™s generally best to seek legal assistance for these kinds of issues at the earliest opportunity available – it might not be pleasant, but itโ€™s imperative that you maintain an environment in which you can mourn the lost family member while respecting their legacy. 

If you can get the practicalities surrounding the funeral and other related issues sorted as soon as possible, then you can take some proper quality time to process whatโ€™s just happened and come to peace with it.

Krystal | Sunny Sweet Days
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