Who's Considered to Be in Your Immediate Family?


Family is everything to some people — but who you consider to be in your family and who’s formally recognized as your immediate family may differ.

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It’s important to know who qualifies as an immediate family member in the event of an emergency, ongoing health issue, or a death. In these instances, you are likely guaranteed certain rights and privileges by a variety of policies, laws, and more from your school, workplace, and your state government.

We’ll discuss who qualifies as your immediate family, as well as which family members fall in your extended family instead. 

Definition of Immediate Family

First of all, who is considered your immediate family? Even if you consider your family unit to be small, the definition of immediate family can actually cover a lot of people.

Your immediate family is made up of the following individuals:

  • Your spouse or domestic partner
  • Your parents or legal guardian
  • Your grandparents
  • Your children
  • Your grandchildren
  • Your siblings
  • Your mother-in-law and father-in-law
  • Your brother-in-law and sister-in-law
  • Your daughter-in-law and your son-in-law
  • Adopted, half, and stepfamily members 
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Immediate family vs. extended family

Now that you’re aware of who’s considered an immediate family member, let’s discuss who qualifies as an extended family member. Again, it’s important to know the difference between these groups.

Unfortunately, who you’re closest with — either extended family members or other loved ones of no relation — may not warrant the same benefits in the event of an emergency. Your extended family is made up of the following individuals: 

  • Your aunts and uncles 
  • Your great aunts and uncles (and so on)
  • Your cousins

Is Immediate Family the Same in Every Situation?

Immediate family, though generally defined by the example above, can vary depending on the governing body. There is not one federal law to define immediate family in every case. Though immediate family generally means relationships defined by blood, adoption, or marriage, there can also be cases where immediate family applies to civil partnership and cohabitation. Stepchildren and adopted children and their spouses are also usually included as immediate family. 

For example, from the Missouri Code of State Regulations, “An immediate family member is defined as a parent; sibling; child by blood, adoption, or marriage; spouse; grandparent or grandchild.”

Furthermore, the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations defines immediate family as limited to  “the spouse, parents, stepparents, foster parents, father-in-law, mother-in-law, children, stepchildren, foster children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and first cousins. ‘First cousin’ means the child of a parent's sibling, i.e., the child of an aunt or uncle.”

And, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, immediate family also includes a “domestic partner and parents thereof, including domestic partners of other immediate family; and any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

Always ask or appeal if needed

You can see how there are instances where immediate family covers more people than we first discussed. Therefore, these variations make it important for you to speak up for yourself, ask questions, and maybe even go through some sort of appeal process, if applicable, if you feel your true immediate family is not being recognized. 

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Role of Immediate Family in Work, Travel, and Other Policies

Coordinating bereavement leave or bereavement travel may seem complicated. Not only is there a ton to plan for and accomplish in a short amount of time, but you’re also probably mourning and may be emotionally supporting other members of your family.

This whole ordeal can be worse yet if you have a superior in your school or workplace who isn’t understanding. However, depending on other factors like state laws, school or workplace policies, you’re likely guaranteed time or support to be with your immediate or even extended family members.   

Plan your bereavement discussion 

In the following sections, we’ll discuss how bereavement leave can be granted from certain entities, such as your workplace or institution. We briefly mentioned that bereavement policies may differ by state or employer. It’s always important to consult with your superiors in a timely manner.

Though you don’t have to give them all of the details of your immediate family member’s illness, death, and so on, being open with them will make the entire process go more smoothly. He or she may offer you further support in the event of other family emergencies as well, such as the death of an extended family member.

What you should use your bereavement leave for

Now, what exactly should use you use bereavement leave for? Typically, bereavement leave is the time in which you visit with other family members and either plan or attend a funeral. All of this may occur in just a short period of time.

If you have an immediate family member who has passed away, you may feel obligated to stay longer to help go through their belongings and make further arrangements.

Perhaps they left a detailed end-of-life plan and you need to help the rest of your family complete tasks or fulfill legal obligations. 

Did your deceased family member live far away? Do you have other obligations that keep you from traveling or attending a funeral? You can use your bereavement leave in other ways. Some people simply need time alone to process their emotions. You could also lean on other loved ones in your area for support.

It’s understandable that you may not be physically or mentally capable of completing your work duties while you’re mourning. You can use your bereavement leave to rest, practice self-care, and connect with family members digitally or via phone.    

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Workplace bereavement policies 

If you are faced with a terminally ill or deceased member of your immediate family, you should reach out to your superior to coordinate your bereavement or better understand your employer’s policies. Some employers have comprehensive employee handbooks, while others may be more cryptic. Talk with your superior sooner rather than later to better understand his or her expectations. 

Though most employers grant 3 to 5 business days of bereavement, Oregon and Massachusetts, for example, give certain employees additional paid time off. States are granted this jurisdiction under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

You may also wish to look into the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for policies regarding ailing family members. Keep in mind that your workplace may have different policies if its headquarters are located in a different state. This may be the case if you work remotely, for example. 

However, many workplaces have made a conscious effort to reform culture policies to be more accommodating and supportive of a healthy work-life balance. This may involve everything from paternity leave to bereavement leave which covers extended family members. 

Travel bereavement policies

Travel for either work or leisure can already take a toll on your mental and physical health. You may have to consider travel times if the immediate family members you’re visiting live far away. If you only have a few days of bereavement, you may find it wise to use paid time off to recover and further support your family.

That being said, many airlines offer discounts on bereavement flights. These discounts include visitation for not only members of your immediate family but also your extended family. You will have to coordinate with your chosen airline for further details.

If you are not obligated to take a flight to visit your family member but are using other travel services, these entities may also provide discounts or other offers. For example, to give some family members space to organize their home, it may be wise to book a hotel instead of staying with them.

That way, too, you’re guaranteed a fresh, clean room and you won’t need to worry about making a mess for mourning family members to clean once you leave. Many hotels also offer discounted meals or complimentary breakfasts, which can cut down on some of your expenses.      

School bereavement policies

If you attend a college, university, or other upper-level institution, you should talk to a counselor or dean as soon as possible. These individuals are briefed on these procedures and policies and will likely be more than happy to help you.

For example, you may not feel comfortable going to your professors or instructors directly. Instead, your counselors or dean can mediate the situation for you and request that assignments be moved, exams be rescheduled, and absences be excused for a period of time. 

Keep in mind, these specific policies may differ depending on your specific institution. Bereavement policies may also only apply to immediate family members, not extended. If this is the case, explain to your counselor or instructors why it’s important that an exception is made. 

Family Can Change and Grow

No matter who’s in your immediate family as it currently stands, like everything else in life, it’s subject to change and grow.

Though it may be sad to think about losing loved ones in the future, you may gain more family members or people you consider family members as time goes on.  

  1. “Absence and Leave; Definitions of Family Member, Immediate Relative, and Related Terms.” Federal Register: Office of Personnel Management. 14 Jun 2010. federalregister.gov
  2. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2021. bit.ly/3zb3tBm
  3. “Immediate Family Law and Legal Definition.” USLegal, Inc. definitions.uslegal.com
  4. “Definitions Related to Family Member for Certain Federal.” U.S. Open Government, 2021. opm.gov
  5. “Family and Medical Leave Act.” U.S. Department of Labor, 2021. dol.gov

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