What Is Considered Immediate Family?

Michelle Blessing
family sitting around a table

Sometimes known as first-degree relatives, your immediate family are those who are part of your everyday life. However, some workplaces may expand the definition to include other members of your family, depending on their policies. Trying to figure out who is a part of your immediate family may seem tricky at first, but there are some clear rules outlining who is included.

Immediate Family Members

According to the Business Dictionary, your immediate family includes the following members:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Children (adopted, half and step children are usually included in the definition)
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings
  • In-laws (mother, father, brother, sister, daughter and son)

There are two main ways to determine immediate and other family members. They are:

  • Relation by blood: This means they share the same lineage or parent, such as in the case of siblings, children or grandchildren.
  • Relation by marriage: This means they share a common bond through the marriage of one member of each family, such as with in-laws or stepchildren.

Determining Immediate Family

Some employers will only consider the direct family unit as immediate family, with other people being secondary family members. Still others might consider anyone living in your household to be an immediate family member, regardless of relationships by blood or marriage. Why are some members considered immediate family and others are not? Traditionally, reasoning who was immediate family and who was extended was largely based on these three criteria:

  • Distance: Living far apart may negate who is considered immediate family since they are not immediately available to you. However, you would still consider children who move away after adulthood to be immediate family, making this a difficult factor in modern society.
  • Relationship: Many people are not exceptionally close with their extended family. For this reason, you might not attend family functions hosted by cousins or second cousins, or correspond with them on a regular basis. This could apply to immediate family members you aren't close with as well, but the law still defines those people as immediate family members.
  • Length of Time: Some employers allow a family member to be considered immediate regardless of relationship if she has lived with you for a period of at least one year.

Exceptions to the Rules

In some cases, employers will expand the definition of immediate family to include domestic partners and cousins. This is done on a case by case basis. For example, some companies will allow domestic partners to receive health insurance benefits, provided they sign an agreement similar to a marriage contract. Cousins and other relatives could be included in your immediate family if they live with you under special circumstances, such as the death of their parents.

Immediate Family Members Receive Certain Benefits

Establishing who your immediate family members are can be important for many reasons. For example:

  • Immediate family members are entitled to life insurance policies or death benefits in the event of a tragedy
  • You can take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a sick family member or new child
  • You are entitled to bereavement days for immediate family members
  • Immediate family members receive preference for immigrant visas
  • Immediate family members are entitled to health benefits you might receive through work

Legal and Personal Definitions

You may have your own personal views of who you consider your immediate family to be. This is fine in terms of your personal life. However, according to the law, only certain people are entitled to benefit from being considered your family members. Whether or not you consider your best friend to be like a sister to you, unless you take legal action to establish certain connections, you will not be entitled to any time off to care for her in the event of an emergency, for example. It is different for your biological sister, whether you like her or not. While in many individuals' personal definitions, family is what you make it, in the eyes of the law, family is a very specific group of people with whom you may or may not have a deep connection.

What Is Considered Immediate Family?