‘Next of kin’ in not a legal term. It is used in medical or healthcare settings to indicate a contact person, the person to be contacted in the event that something happens, such as an accident, illness or decline in a person’s condition. This is often a relative or friend.
The ‘Next of kin’ does not have any legal authority or responsibility to make decisions or give consent on behalf of a person, unless they have been legally appointed to do so under a registered Enduring Power of Attorney.
Currently, and under the new Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 when it is commenced, a person who is a relative or friend, can make a valuable contribution by providing relevant information in respect of a person at a time when that person, either temporarily or otherwise, is not able to provide it for themselves. Close relatives or friends can give information to ensure the person’s past will and preferences, and their beliefs and values are known, which will help to determine what the person would decide for themselves in a particular situation if they were able to do so.
Under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 a person can legally appoint a person they choose to help them make decisions, or to make decisions with them when they need assistance, or to make decisions on their behalf in the future when they are no longer able to do this. This person may be a relative or friend. A relative or friend may also be appointed by the Court as a person’s Decision-Making Representative. A person who is appointed to make decisions on a person’s behalf must adhere to the Guiding Principles of the ADM (Capacity) Act 2015 and base the decision on the known will, preferences, beliefs and values of the person who appointed them.
To give a familiar person authority to make decisions should serve to protect and safeguard a person’s own interests. It also gives that person significant responsibility, and it is therefore important that a person giving this authority has discussed with the person being appointed their wishes, preferences, values and what they would like that person to decide for them in the future should it become necessary.