“I am so upset this woman had not one person in her life to list as family”

Sad senior woman in her 90s

Some years earlier, Tegan Hastie had cared for the woman and over time the two had developed a strong bond.

More recently, Tegan hadn’t seen the woman so often, so it came out of the blue when police called with a surprising message.

The woman Tegan had cared for had nominated her as next of kin – and granddaughter. She had no other friends or family to put down.

“Feeling sad,” Tegan wrote in a comment on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group.

“I am so unbelievably upset this woman had not one person in her life to even list as a family member.”

Tegan told the police she was not, in fact, the woman’s granddaughter, removing any misunderstanding.

This story illustrates how important carers can become in a person’s life, how care recipients can come to rely on their carers and trust them as though they were family. It takes a special type of person to form these bonds, and be compassionate, patient, empathetic and kind. I’m sure these types of relationships will be familiar to many who read these pages.

But the sad tale has also prompted HelloCare to look at the issue of next of kin for aged care workers, who can be nominated and what is required?

We reached out to Tanya Chapman, who is senior associate specialising in estates and elder law with aged care lawyers Catherine Henry Lawyers.

Chapman said next of kin means different things in different contexts, depending on the decision that needs to be made.

If there is a will, the executor plans the funeral and decides what happens with the body, but if the person has died without a will, the next of kin decides what happens with the body, including organising the funeral.

Chapman says the next of kin is normally:

  • A spouse or domestic partner
  • An adult child (eldest takes priority)
  • A parent
  • A sibling
  • A person who immediately before the death was the deceased’s personal representative, or
  • A person the coroner decides is the senior available next of kin.

 If a person dies in hospital without a next of kin and no assets, then the hospital takes responsibility for arranging the funeral. 

If a person dies without a next of kin and without assets, the police organise a funeral, Chapman said. 

Chapman said there is no “legal problem” with a resident appointing an aged care worker as next of kin, provided the resident had capacity and did it of their own free will. 

However, she said some aged care providers may have their own regulations or rules relating to the practice. 

“While there is nothing wrong with it legally, the nominated person may find it difficult to prove that he/she has been nominated as next of kin. 

“For example, if trying to give instructions to the funeral home for burial or cremation. A related person may be able to show a birth certificate to prove that they are related. What would the unrelated next of kin be able to provide as proof?” she asked rhetorically.

 Chapman said sometimes aged care providers will ask a person to nominate a next of kin as the person to contact if they need to advise them of an important incident. 

“These nominations may only be available to the relevant facility or they may form part of the person’s medical records,” she said, they are not a “legal nomination”.

In Tegan’s case, the nomination seems to have been symbolic of the woman’s affection for her carer. 

Tegan was not her granddaughter, but perhaps the woman began to think of her as such, and that delivered her comfort as she approached the end of her life. For forming those reassuring feelings, Tegan should be immensely proud.

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