When someone dies, their next of kin (NOK) are typically the first people notified. They are also the ones who make decisions about what happens next with the deceased person’s remains. This time of loss can be difficult for them, as they must now grieve the death of a loved one. In North Carolina, the NOK is a specific list of people in the deceased person’s life given authority to make decisions about the individual’s remains. Let’s take a closer look at the next of kin meaning and the decisions they must make when a loved one dies.

What Does the Next of Kin (NOK) Do?

When someone passes away in North Carolina, their next of kin must make several important decisions. These include choices about funeral and burial arrangements, handling the deceased’s final affairs, and notifying the proper authorities. The next of kin may delegate some of these tasks to friends or professionals.

These decisions can be a lot for someone to handle, especially if they are grieving. It is normal and expected for the next of kin to delegate some of these tasks to friends or professionals, such as a local funeral home and crematory.

However, if you don’t want your NOK to feel burdened by these overwhelming decisions, it’s essential to plan with a funeral pre-plan.

Who is the Next of Kin (NOK) in North Carolina?

According to NC Law NCGSA § 130A-420, there is an order in which you can find the next of kin (NOK). They are the ones who will make decisions about the deceased individual’s remains and their estate in general.

Below is the order that funeral homes must go in when finding the person who can give instructions for the disposition of remains. Let’s review these roles in the specific order of NC law and look at how each works in turn.

Number 1: Legally Appointed Roles & Documents

Many individuals plan for their death by appointing someone with authority to make decisions for them after they die. There are many ways to appoint someone you trust to make the crucial decisions about your remains when you pass away. You may also use legal documents to lay out your wishes as long as they are legally acceptable in our state.

You may appoint anyone over 18 or use a document to lay out your wishes with these legal estate planning tools:

Healthcare power of attorney:

This legal document shows that the person named has the authority to make all healthcare or medical decisions for you or handle your remains after you pass away.

Preneed agreement:

This is a legal agreement between you and a funeral home in which you prepay or contract with them to handle the details of your remains.

Last will & testament:

Your will names your executor who makes all decisions about your estate and arrangements after your death.

A legal statement signed by two adult witnesses:

This can be a handwritten will or another document in which the deceased lays out plans for their remains after death.

Other written legal statements under North Carolina law:

Your attorney may advise you of different legal ways to designate a person to make decisions after you pass away, such as trust agreements.

Signed DD form 93 stating who their body goes to after death:

For military personnel, DD Form 93 designates beneficiaries for certain benefits in the event of the Service member’s death. It is also a guide for the disposition of that member’s pay and allowances if captured, missing, or interned, showing the names and addresses of people the Service member wants to notify in case of emergency or death. Civilian personnel may use the form to expedite the notification process in the event of an emergency or their own death.

A court-ordered guardian can plan for the person’s death:

A guardian is a person who has the legal authority to care for another person and make decisions for them. If a court-ordered guardian exists, they have the power to make an end-of-life plan for the person’s death before they die. However, once the person dies, the guardian no longer has authority over decisions unless they are the NOK.

Number 2: Surviving Spouse

If there are no legal documents naming a health care power of attorney for the deceased, then the decision-making power falls to the surviving spouse.

In this case, the spouse often finds themselves grief-stricken and struggling to make decisions about which funeral home to call, how to cope with this loss, caring for any children, wondering how to survive without the spouse’s income or role, and what to do with the remains.

Being the NOK is a heavy burden for a spouse. Because it is so much for a spouse to handle, many individuals make estate planning documents, so their spouse knows about their wishes and plans.

Leaving estate planning documents and a funeral home pre-plan that lays out precisely what you desire give your loved ones much peace about what happens next.

Number 3: A Majority of Adult Children 

If there is no health care power of attorney and no spouse, the decisions about remains fall to the majority of adult children. If the children are unavailable or cannot make decisions together, the decisions move on to the parents. 

Often, the majority of adult children must decide about the disposition of the remains. Cremation is final, so sometimes adult children disagree over cremation vs. burial.

Sometimes, trying to contact all of the children can delay a final disposition.

However, if a funeral home made a good faith effort to contact the children, but only one made themselves available, they may sign the forms and make the decisions about burial or cremation.

Number 4: Parents 

Obviously, most parents have care and concern for their children when they pass away.

Number 5: Majority of Adult Siblings 

If your parents and children are not available, the duty falls to your siblings. Any available siblings discuss and decide what is best for the next steps.

Number 6: Majority of the individuals in the next degrees of kinship

This could include a majority of your first cousins or a majority of your blood-related aunts and uncles.

Number 7: Someone Who Exhibited Special Care & Concern For You

This person must also be willing and capable of making decisions about the disposition of your body. Perhaps you had a friend who always came to visit you at your assisted living, and the staff knew them as a caring person in your life.

Number 8: Public Official

Sometimes, a social services representative doing a well-being check or a law enforcement officer following a report finds someone deceased at home. If the person has no estate planning or information for any loved ones, friends, or family, the public official may make decisions about their remains.

Number 9: Institutional Representative:

When someone of advanced age does not plan for their death, they often pass away in a nursing home or assisted living. If they have no family or friends, the head of the nursing home or assisted living environment may make the decisions about their remains.

Number 10: Any Other Person Willing to Assume Responsibility

If none of the above individuals step up and assume responsibility and there are no estate planning documents, any legal or jurisdictional authority willing to take on the decision-making process may do so. However, they must also pay the bill.

Who is NOT Considered Next of Kin?

Some people are not next of kin (unless the first ten NOKs are unavailable). Being emotionally or physically close to the deceased does not mean they become NOKs.

These include:

  • Roommates
  • Caretakers
  • Co-workers
  • Unmarried Partners

If you want someone other than your next of kin to make decisions about your remains, you need to plan ahead using estate planning documents. You can appoint someone to be your executor and have the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf.

Planning for Your Death

No one likes to think about their own death, but it is crucial to plan for the future. If you do not want your next of kin to make decisions about your remains, you need to appoint someone in writing. 

You can appoint someone through a health care power of attorney or other means. Also, consider making a funeral pre-plan so that your loved ones do not have to make decisions about your final arrangements while grieving. Do not place your funeral plans within your Will since no one generally looks at it until days or weeks after death.

Making decisions about what happens after you die is integral to life. By planning ahead, you can take the burden off your loved ones during a difficult time.

We Can Help

At Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory, we understand the importance of planning for your death. We can help you create a funeral pre-plan that considers your wishes and lets you plan everything from the flowers to the music to the disposition of your remains. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to take a tour of our facilities.

We are here to help you plan well and ensure that your NOK honors your final wishes.