Who Is Considered an Immediate Family Member?

Family has breakfast together
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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. 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 immediate family. Today, living in a world of global communications and travel, it's easier to make that case even if you live at a distance.
  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 immediate 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

The composition of immediate family for a person may vary for different legal or financial purposes. Here are some of the most common ones.

Bereavement and Funeral Leave

Depending on the terms of your employment, you may be entitled to bereavement days. Human resource 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 typically covered in that agreement. Many companies will follow the federal government's guidelines when it comes to defining who is considered an immediate family member.

If employees need more time off for bereavement 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 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 conceived or born prior to your coming to the U.S. They are considered the only members of your immediate family for immigration purposes.

Once you're a naturalized U.S. citizen, you can also petition for children over the age of 21, parents, siblings, a fiancé(e), and the children of a fiancé(e) to come to the U.S.

Family Medical Leave

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

  1. The employee needs time to birth and care for a child.
  2. The employee needs time to adopt or foster a child.
  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 because they have a serious health condition.
  5. The employee has an emergency related to an immediate family member's military service.

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 the 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.

The Bottom Line

Even though the concept of immediate family may seem simple, you can't assume what the definition is. Instead, look at how it's defined in a particular situation. It's best to familiarize yourself with the definitions for situations that may apply to you, like bereavement and FMLA leave.