In his last two articles (ICCM Journals Autumn and Winter 2021), Nick Beetham considered Councils’ duties when arranging funerals under s.46 Public Health Act and the merits of tracing next of kin of deceased persons.

The expression “next of kin” has a strict legal meaning and describes a person or people who are either the surviving spouse* or blood relatives of another – for our purposes deceased – person. The rules are very generous. If there is no surviving spouse*, the blood relatives under consideration range from the very closely related (children, grandchildren and so on) via the deceased’s parents and then siblings of the whole blood (or, if none, of the half-blood) and their children, grandchildren etc. through the deceased’s grandparents to the uncles and aunts of the whole blood (or, if none, of the half-blood) and their children, grandchildren etc. It’s a very wide net – if you tot them up, you’ll see there are eight classes whose members are potentially eligible to be next of kin in the legal sense.

Our experience over many years and thousands of cases is that even when friends and neighbours of the deceased confidently assert that “there is no next of kin” there almost always is.

The front page headline on the latest Municipal Journal tells us “Services feel the strain – pressure on public services as staff absences increase”. Self-evidently, Councils’ resources are stretched, with little time to make even rudimentary enquiries – and that’s where the private sector can help. We have at our fingertips the tools and expertise to identify and locate next of kin of deceased persons.

Importantly for Councils, this makes it pretty much a given that they can contact next of kin who can, ideally, take on the funeral arrangements themselves or, if the funeral stays under s.46 PHA, attend and pay their respects. In all cases where the deceased has left sufficient estate, the funeral costs will be covered, whether arranged by the family, or if the Council is reimbursed for a s.46PHA funeral.

It costs Councils nothing to ask the question – “did this deceased leave any surviving next of kin?” The answer is almost always “yes”.

Nick Beetham is Business Development Manager at Fraser and Fraser. You can reach him on 020 7832 1400 and nickbeetham@fraserandfraser.co.uk.

 

*or registered Civil Partner. Where spouses or Civil Partners have separated, a marriage or Civil Partnership subsists unless and until dissolved by Decree Absolute or Civil Partnership Dissolution Order. So even a surviving spouse or registered Civil Partner from whom the deceased has been long-term estranged can be next of kin.