Responsibilities of a Senior Family Member in Times of Death

Responsibilities of a Senior Family Member in Times of Death

When a loved one passes away, the mantle of responsibility often falls on a senior family member, commonly known as the "senior next of kin." This individual assumes the crucial role of making legal decisions, arranging the funeral, and overseeing the administration of the deceased person's estate.

Unravelling the Notion of Next of Kin

The 'next of kin' is essentially the closest living relative of an individual. In Australia, this typically refers to a person’s spouse, de facto partner, or closest living blood relative. The term holds significant weight in estate planning documents, such as a 'Last Will & Testament.'

The Legal Hierarchy of Next of Kin

Although Australia lacks an official legal definition of 'next of kin,' various pieces of legislation across states and territories provide guidance on determining the most senior next of kin. The following hierarchy outlines the order of seniority:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Adult son or daughter (with the eldest surviving taking precedence)
  • Parent
  • Adult sibling
  • Person named in the Will as an executor
  • Person who, immediately before the death, was a personal representative of the deceased
  • Person determined by the Coroner due to the closeness of their relationship with the deceased before their demise.

For those planning a funeral, you can obtain a complimentary quote on the Funera Sydney website here, or call (02) 9954 6655 at any time.

Navigating the Responsibilities of a Senior Family Member

A 'Last Will & Testament' typically designates an executor to manage a person's estate after their demise. However, if someone passes away without a valid Will, commonly referred to as 'dying intestate,' the next of kin usually steps into the role of managing the estate.

To prevent intestacy, it's crucial to create or update your Will.

In the absence of a Will, the next of kin is also responsible for applying for a grant of Probate, enabling them to be named as the administrator of the estate. As the administrator, they gain access to accounts, handle property sales, and distribute assets to beneficiaries, including themselves.

If there's no Will or appointed executor, and the next of kin willingly assumes the responsibility, their duties often include:

  • Decisions regarding organ donation and post-mortem examinations (if applicable)
  • Letting the family and friends know of the passing;
  • Ensure authorities are also aware of occurrence within 30 days
  • Plan and arrange the funeral
  • Settling the deceased person’s financial affairs
  • Do the administrative work for the deceased estate: determining asset value and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

It's crucial to note that the next of kin isn't legally obligated to undertake the estate administration process.

This article is not legal advice. Consult with a legal professional for personalised guidance on your unique circumstances.


If you're grappling with grief following a loss, support is available. Reach out to a close friend or family member, or consult your GP. Additionally, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides valuable information on bereavement services nationwide. For immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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