The next of kin is a person who can make legal decisions (like choosing between burial and cremation) after someone passes away. In the US, a surviving spouse would be the first in line, followed by any children. However, next of kin rules only apply in situations where no legal document (like a will) has been left behind.
From top to bottom, the next of kin is the first surviving relative(s) over the age of 18 in this list:
(for a full list, click here)
In other words, if someone passes away, without a DPOAH or a spouse, the children would be the next of kin. In California, half-relations (as well as adoptive and step-relations) all have an equal right to be the next of kin.
If there are multiple next of kin, one person will generally act as the primary point of contact with a funeral home. However, the signature of the majority will be needed to authorize cremation or burial. In the unusual case where one of the next of kin can’t be contacted, there must be ‘reasonable effort’ made to contact the person before proceeding.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPOAH) is a legal document that puts someone in charge of making health care (and usually funeral) decisions. In the US, if a DPOAH exists, the person named in that document is the person who has the legal right to make funeral decisions - regardless of any surviving next of kin.
The DPOAH is often named as part of a Living Will or Advanced Healthcare Directive. These are legal documents that specify what your preferences are, if you can’t communicate them.
A DPOAH can also be useful in a situation where there are multiple next of kin. If there are ten children who would be next of kin, at least six of them would need to authorize cremation. This can sometimes be politically and logistically complicated compared to telling one child about your preferences, and then giving them the Power of Attorney.
The link below will take you to a free legal contract that you can download. The document is called an Advanced Healthcare Directive, and will give the person named the ability to make medical and post-death decisions for you, once a doctor decides that you are no longer able to make those decisions for yourself.
Make sure you answer the questions carefully, and read the entire document before signing it.
Making the right decisions when someone has passed away is not always easy. If you are unsure what is right for your family, the Tulip Cremation Guide has been written to help you through the process.