Definition and Examples of Immediate Family

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.

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.

How Does Immediate Family Work?

The composition of immediate family for a person may vary for different legal or financial purposes. For example, if you have a family member receiving care at the hospital, you may be required by hospital rules to be an immediate family member in order to have visitation privileges. Here are some more of the most common situations where you may encounter an immediate family requirement.


Depending on the terms of your employment, you may be entitled to bereavement days for the death of immediate family members. Human resource departments of companies administer their bereavement leave policies and who constitutes an immediate family member. 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. This may again hinge on whether or not the deceased is an immediate family member.


If you came to the U.S. 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 work weeks 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.

When there is a new issue of stock, the immediate family of the brokers who sell the stock are prohibited from purchasing it. This rule is meant to control stock manipulation and protect the public from such practices.

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.

Key Takeaways

  • Immediate family is not defined under law.
  • To understand the concept of immediate family, look at how it’s defined in a particular situation.
  • Learn how immediate family is defined in situations that may apply to you, such as bereavement, stock market and other financial transactions, and FMLA leave.