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Next of kin refers to the nearest blood relatives of a person who has died, including the surviving spouse. It may also be used to refer to anyone who would inherit part of the estate by the laws of descent and distribution if there is no will. In cases of emergency when an injured person needs to have a person notified, the next of kin may be attempted to be contacted. Next of kin may be required to provide information or provide consents in such emergency situations.
Whether or not stepchildren are considered next of kin varies and applicable laws, such as a state statute of descent and distribution, should be consulted. A next of kin may have rights, which vary by state law, regarding the remains of a deceased person. The following is an example of a state statute involving disposition of remains by next of kin:
"Any person designated by the deceased in a prepaid funeral plan or certain other written instruments as the "next-of-kin" shall have the top priority in determining the disposition of the body. If multiple documents exist, then the latest executed shall have priority. Before being allowed the right of sepulcher with regard to a deceased's body, the person must agree to carry out the deceased's person's wishes as stated in a prepaid funeral plan or other written instruments.
In actions against a funeral director or establishment for actions taken in funeral arrangements, a funeral director or establishment shall only be liable if they have actual knowledge that a person's claim to be the deceased's person's next-of-kin was false or had information that would cause a reasonable person to believe the claim was false.
Any person claiming the right to control disposition of the body must state in writing any knowledge of the person as to the designation of a next-of-kin by the deceased person and, if no designation was made, information regarding persons with superior rights to control the body and that attempts have been made to locate such persons."