for better mental health

Nearest relative

Explains what a nearest relative is, including what powers and rights they have and how you can change your nearest relative.

What is a nearest relative?

Nearest relative is a special term used in the Mental Health Act 1983. It gives one member of your family rights and responsibilities if you are:

Your nearest relative is not the same as your next of kin. The next of kin doesn't have any rights under the Mental Health Act.

Nearest relative is an important safeguard for people who are affected by the Mental Health Act. The nearest relative is another way of making sure that your rights are protected when you are unwell and it is normally someone that you trust.

Who is my nearest relative?

Section 26 of the Mental Health Act 1983 sets out who will be your nearest relative. The list is in strict order and the person who is highest on the list is your nearest relative.

List of who is your nearest relative

  1. Husband, wife or civil partner (including cohabitee for more than 6 months).
  2. Son or daughter
  3. Father or mother (an unmarried father must have parental responsibility in order to be nearest relative)
  4. Brother or sister
  5. Grandparent
  6. Grandchild
  7. Uncle or aunt
  8. Nephew or niece

Also, the nearest relative must:

  • be over 18 unless they are your mother, father, husband, wife or civil partner
  • live in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man unless you normally live abroad too.

Other situations that affect who your nearest relative might be

  • If you are under 18 and subject to a care order, the local authority will be your nearest relative, unless you have a husband, wife or civil partner.
  • If you are permanently separated from your partner, they cannot be your nearest relative.
  • If there are two people from the same group, the elder person is nearest relative. So for example, if you have two siblings, the elder one would be your nearest relative.
  • If you have lived with a relative or are cared for by one of your relatives, they will become your nearest relative. So for example, if your sister is your carer but you also have a father, in this situation your sister would be your nearest relative.
  • If you have lived with someone who is not related to you for more than 5 years, they will be added to the bottom of your list of relatives after niece and nephew. So for example, if you have a friend who has lived with you for 7 years they will be added to the list. If you also have a mother and a brother, in this situation your mother would be your nearest relative.
  • If you have half blood relatives (like a half brother or sister) then they can be your nearest relative. But a whole blood relationship will take priority over half blood. So for example, if you have a full brother who is 20 years old, and a half-sister who is 32 years old, normally the elder would be the nearest relative. But because it is a half-blood relationship, here your brother would be your nearest relative.
  • If you have adoptive relationships (like an adoptive mother or father) then they can be your nearest relative.
  • If you have step-relationships (like a step-mother or step-father) then they cannot be your nearest relative.

What happens if I do not have anyone to act as nearest relative?

If you do not have anyone on the list that can act as a nearest relative, you can apply to your local county court to appoint one. This could be a friend or could be an approved mental health professional. The process is the same as displacement.

This information was published in November 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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