Who Is Considered an Immediate Family Member?

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The term “immediate family,” also called first degree relatives, refers to a person’s smallest individual family unit. Immediate family may be determined as either:

  • Relatives by Blood: These are immediate family members related by blood such as siblings, children, and grandchildren.
  • Relatives by Lineage: These are family members that share a bond through marriage such as spouses, in-laws, children by adoption, and step-children.

Even if two people are not connected by marriage but by a civil partnership or cohabitation, immediate family may apply to them. Members of a person’s immediate family may go as far as cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even further. It depends on both the law in question and on the responsibilities people have toward the other people in their lives.

A general definition of immediate family is difficult because it depends on the organization using the term and the purpose for which the term is used.

Determining Immediate Family

There are other criteria useful for determining immediate family besides blood and lineage. Some of the more common are:

  1. Distance: In the past, if family members lived at a distance, it was hard to make a case for them to be considered as immediate family. Living in a world of global communications and travel, it is now easier to make that case even if you aren’t particularly close.
  2. Relationship: Even though you may not be close to some of your extended family, like cousins, the law may dictate that they are part of your extended family.
  3. Length of Time: In some cases, family members may be considered immediate if they have lived with you for a least one year.

Legal and Financial Use of Immediate Family

Composition and Use of the term Immediate Family:

The composition of immediate family for a person may vary for different legal or financial purposes.

Bereavement and Funeral Leave

You are entitled to bereavement days at your place of employment for immediate family members only if that is an agreed upon benefit of your employment. Human Relations Departments of companies administer their bereavement leave policies. There are no federal laws governing bereavement days or bereavement leave. If there is an employee handbook, the number of bereavement days provided is usually stated there. If the company is unionized or under a collective bargaining agreement, then bereavement leave is covered in that agreement. Many companies will follow the federal government's guidelines, defining who is an immediate family member, for their employees for bereavement leave. If employees need more time off for bereavement leave than established in company guidelines, the company may ask them to take sick leave, vacation leave, or in extreme cases, unpaid leave. An employee may have duties like serving as an executor or executrix of an estate which can take up a lot of time.


If you came to the United States as a refugee or were granted asylum during the last two years, you may petition for your spouse or your dependent child under the age of 21 to come to the U.S. as a derivative refugee or seeker of asylum. You must have been married to your spouse and the child must have been yours prior to your coming to the U.S. They are considered the only members of your immediate family. You may have received permanent residency status or become a U.S. citizen during the two years.

Family Medical Leave

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires employers to grant an employee who is eligible a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a year for one of the following four reasons:

  1. The employee needs time to birth and care for a child.
  2. The employee needs time to adopt or bring a child into foster care.
  3. The employee needs time to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. In-laws are not covered under FMLA.
  4. The employee needs time for medical leave when he or she has a serious health condition.

In the case of Family Medical Leave, the only persons defined as immediate family are the spouse, child, and parents.

Stock Market Transactions: The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

(FINRA) has specified some areas in which securities brokers and dealers have to be careful when dealing with immediate family. The first is the issuance of initial public offerings (IPOs), particularly those that are “hot” or particularly popular. Immediate family cannot participate in these IPOs or it is considered insider trading. The definition of immediate family by FINRA is much broader than defined by FMLA. Immediate family for purposes of these types of stock transactions includes just about everyone from spouses, children, and parents to grandparents, cousins, and in-laws. Also, when there is a new issue of stock, the immediate family of
brokers who sell the stock are prohibited from purchasing it. This is to
control stock manipulation and the purpose is to protect the public.

Even though the concept of immediate family may seem simple, take the various legal and financial implications of the term into consideration.

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Funeral Leave." Accessed July 16, 2020.

  2. Office of Personnel Management. "Pay & Leave Leave Administration." Accessed July 16, 2020.

  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Family of Refugees and Asylees." Accessed July 16, 2020.

  4. U.S. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act." Accessed July 16, 2020.

  5. FINRA. "5130. Restrictions on the Purchase and Sale of Initial Equity Public Offerings." Accessed July 16, 2020.

  6. FINRA. "5131. New Issue Allocations and Distributions." Accessed July 16, 2020.