Next of kin is a legal term that comes up when someone has died without a will. If an individual dies without leaving a valid will, her estate passes to the relatives described as next of kin in the state's intestacy laws. Most states consider the deceased's surviving spouse and children next of kin for inheritance purposes.
If a person writes a valid will before she dies, all of her property passes under that will to the persons or entities the will identifies as her beneficiaries, regardless of whether they are family or relatives. If she dies without a will, however, state intestacy laws apply. Most state intestacy laws only permit spouses and blood relatives to inherit and unmarried partners take nothing.
Who Gets What
State laws vary about how an intestate estate is divided. If the deceased's spouse is living, she generally gets the largest portion of the estate; children, biological and adopted, share the rest. Laws often give a predeceased child's inheritance to his living children. The surviving spouse may take all if the couple was childless. Other blood relatives inherit if the deceased left neither spouse nor children.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.