What is the Legal Order of Next of Kin?


As you begin to learn more about inheritance law, you’re likely to come across one key term - “next of kin.” At its simplest, it just means the decedent's blood relatives who are first in line to inherit his or her assets. In Florida, the next of kin rule comes into play when someone dies without a will. In this case, the court has to establish a next of kin relationship so the estate can be properly distributed. It is most important when there is no surviving spouse or children as the next of kin may also be responsible for making certain decisions like funeral arrangements, making medical decisions, and taking control of the estate.


Who Counts as Next of Kin in Florida?


In general, the legal order of next of kin includes children, parents, siblings, or other distant blood relations. A spouse also has powerful inheritance rights over all next of kin who are blood relatives. If the decedent did not have a will, then the surviving spouse is usually the first in line to inherit the estate, depending on whether or not the decedent and spouse have children outside of the marriage. In many cases, the spouse will usually inherit 100% of the estate. Without a surviving spouse, next of kin laws come into play. Generally, those next in line move down this list.

  • Decedent’s Children and then Grandchildren

  • Decedent's Parents

  • Decedent’s Siblings

  • Decedent’s Grandparents

  • Decedent’s Aunts and Uncles, or nieces/nephews

  • Any kin of the last deceased spouse

If no legal heir is identified, the state will eventually become the owner of the property involved through the unclaimed property process. If the only person in the legal order of next of kin is a minor, then a guardian will need to be appointed by the court to oversee the distribution and management of the estate until the child reaches age 18.


The probate court will require searches for the next of kin and in some cases, even very extended, unknown family may inherit the estate. In most cases, it is very unusual that the government will keep the estate- unless, of course, it cannot find any next of kin.


How is property inherited as next of kin?


When someone dies without a will, the probate court will appoint a personal representative or an administrator to help manage and distribute the assets. In most cases, the administrator may be a family member like the spouse or adult child. During probate, all the creditors and lien holders are identified. Once probate is over, the administrator will then first pay the funeral, decedent's creditors and lien holders, take care of any residual taxes and then complete the documentation for the transfer of assets to the heirs according to the intestate laws.


In all cases now, a next of kin affidavit is required before the estate can be transferred. In addition, to prove next of kin may also require government-issued photo identification or a birth certificate.


Do Next of Kin Receive Life Insurance and Other Investments?


With life insurance and other investments, the next of kin status is irrelevant. The reason is that in most cases these investments do have a named beneficiary. For example, when you buy life insurance, at the very beginning, you will be asked to name a beneficiary. So, after the death of the deceased, the life insurance policy and other investments are transferred to the named beneficiaries, and they may not be the next of kin. If the beneficiary of the policy has already died, the court will consider the funds with the other assets in the estate, if the policy does not have a provision directing otherwise.


Great Estate Planning Can Prevent Problems With Your Assets


If you want your estate distributed properly, and not necessarily just in the legal order of next of kin, then it is important to make a will. Without a will, the probate court will distribute your estate based on the intestate law of succession, and you may not want your estate distributed in that manner.


At Shannon Milky Law Firm we are dedicated to working with you to simplify the complex process of planning your estate, whether it is that you need a will or a trust – all to ensure that your wishes are followed after your death, and that your family’s financial future is protected.