Next of kin

Featured article - 28 July 2017
By Professor Keith Brown, NCMF member

Did you know that the term ‘Next of Kin’ is a meaningless term in Law unless you die without a will when provision is made to disperse the estate! So when you go to hospital and the question is asked – Who is your ‘next of kin’ it really is a daft question, they really should be asking you- “Who would you like us to call in the case of an emergency?”

The tragic case of PC Paul Briggs which was in the news towards the end of 2016 should be a wake-up call to us all. PC Paul Briggs a 43 year old Police Officer was involved in a road traffic accident in 2015 when he was knocked off his motorbike and suffered serious injuries – as well as suffering five fractures to his spine he also had a serious brain injury leaving him in a ‘minimally conscious state’. For 18 months his wife had to fight with the Court of Protection for life support to be stopped and to allow for her husband to die peacefully.

Many commentators, the public and indeed Mrs Briggs were surprised that as ‘his wife’ Mrs Briggs could not advocate on behalf of her husband who lacked capacity to make his own decision following the motorbike crash as they saw her as ‘his next of kin’. This shows very starkly the issues that can arise due to a misunderstanding of the term ‘next of kin’. What was needed was a Lasting Power of Attorney (Health and Welfare). Here a person makes a choice as to whom they would like to act on their behalf should they lose capacity to make decision. In this case, if Paul Briggs had made a Lasting Power of Attorney made out to his wife, then Mrs Briggs would have had the legal authority to stop life support treatment and allow her husband to die peacefully without having to spend months in a court case.

For the sake of all of our loved ones – get an LPA now. Do not risk your loved ones going through the agony that Mrs Briggs and the Briggs family went through. Make a decision via an LPA as to who will act for you if you lose capacity to make decisions for yourself.

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