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What Does 'Next Friend' or 'a/n/f' Mean in Legal Documents?

When involved in legal proceedings, it's always good to have a friend or two. But when a legal document refers a person's "next friend," it isn't talking about that person's social circle. Rather, the "next friend" is an individual appearing or appointed by a court to act on the behalf of a person lacking legal capacity, such as a child or a person who has been incapacitated due to illness or injury.

What does the "next friend" do, and when is it used?

Next Friend Is Not a Party to the Suit

The next friend's name appears on a complaint or other legal document -- sometimes followed by the designation "a/n/f" or "as next friend" -- but the next friend is not a party to the lawsuit. Rather, the next friend merely acts on behalf of another party in bringing a lawsuit or during a legal proceeding.

In some states, the next friend may be referred to as the guardian ad litem (with some states having additional requirements for those acting as guardians ad litem), but the next friend is not a legal guardian. At the conclusion of the lawsuit in which he or she is appearing as next friend, the next friend's duty ends. The next friend is not granted any additional rights to custody over the person for whom he is acting as next friend, nor does the role grant any right or control over that person's property.

When Is the Next Friend Used?

An individual typically acts as next friend for a person who is unable to file or manage his or her own lawsuit. One common instance of the use of a next friend is in cases brought for the benefit of minor children, who generally aren't permitted to bring lawsuits themselves. In these cases, the next friend is often a parent, although it can also be another person whose interests are not counter to the child's.

The next friend may also be used for a person who has been declared incompetent or incapacitated. Often, these may be adults who are suffering from age-related dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In one recent case, a potential $50 million class action lawsuit against the NCAA was filed on behalf of the lead plaintiff by his sister as next friend. That plaintiff -- former University of Texas football player Julius Whittier -- suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which the lawsuit alleges was caused by repeated head injuries suffered during his time as a college football player.

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