grandparentsI sometimes act as Health and Welfare attorney for people who have no family or solicitor willing to act in this capacity. For those who have lost capacity, I am recorded as their Next of Kin (NOK) with their GP, other health professionals, hospitals and care providers. I enjoy being NOK because it makes a difference to the individual I am supporting. After all, we all need to matter to someone!

So let’s look a bit closer at what NOK means. Health and Social Care, independent consultants like myself, and care providers, often ask people “Who is your next of kin?” The term is used as a kind of shorthand for “Who do I/we communicate with about you?” However, the term has no legal status when you are alive and is unreliable because it does not identify if the person is your closest relative or the person most important to you. In fact, they are often different people.

The term NOK is commonly used and there is an assumption that the person you identify as your NOK has certain rights and duties. As health and social care professionals, we should always consult with the people closest to the person who lacks capacity, to understand the person’s wishes and feelings and to help them make a decision in that person’s best interests. However, the person identified as NOK should not be asked to sign and/or consent to certain interventions unless they have a legal basis for doing so. This is a mistake made in many hospitals nursing and care homes where family members are asked to sign care plans, end of life plans etc and provide consent, which is not legally valid.

The only situations where a NOK is legally valid for signing health and/or social care forms are when the person has a registered Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for Health & Welfare or is a Court appointed Deputy. In the latter’s case, deputyship needs to be for health and welfare decisions although a Deputy for Financial affairs can sign a contract with a care home as it relates to finance. An Enduring Power of Attorney is not valid for health and social care decisions neither is an LPA for Property and finance.

I cannot stress enough, the importance of making a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health & Welfare as well as for Property & Finance as soon as possible, ideally at, or soon after retirement. So many things can happen to take away our ability to make decisions and it can happen in the blink of an eye when we are least expecting it e.g. a stroke, accident, or brain injury. I always advise people to use a solicitor to make their LPAs. You can get the forms off the internet and do it yourself but you wouldn’t know if you had made a mistake until it was too late and would miss out on valuable legal advice. If you don’t have a solicitor you can find one here Solicitors for the Elderly