Why doesn't being someone's next of kin mean I can make decisions on their behalf?

From the August/September 2015 issue of our magazine, our Ask an expert column looks at how 'next of kin' doesn't have the legal meaning we might think.

A woman at her computer

'As my uncle's next of kin, I thought I could make decisions about his care, yet the doctor told me this isn't true. Is she correct?'

This is generally true, though family members may be appointed to make these decisions and, if not, they should still be consulted.

'Next of kin' usually refers to someone's closest relative but, contrary to what many of us believe, the term doesn't mean anything in law or come with any automatic legal powers.

However there are ways for a relative to be able to make care decisions on behalf of someone with dementia, or at least have a say in them.

Lasting power of attorney

Find out what a Lasting power of attorney is and why you might consider making one.

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Health and welfare LPAs

People in England and Wales can make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for health and welfare so that, if there is a time when they aren't able to make decisions about their care and treatment, an appointed person - an attorney - will be able to do this for them.

An LPA needs to be created while the person is still able to make this decision, so planning ahead is important. They can also appoint more than one attorney.

In Northern Ireland there is currently no LPA for health and welfare, or an equivalent, but it is hoped that this will change.

Without an LPA

If there is no LPA for health and welfare, professionals such as doctors and social workers will generally make decisions about a person's care if they cannot do this themselves.

However in making these decisions, professionals should consult the person's family, so they should still be involved in the decision-making process.

This means that as a relative, you should share your views on what you feel is best for your uncle and what you believe he would want, though the final decision rests with the professionals involved.

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