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Family's what you make it

A discussion ensued during our Thanksgiving dinner relating to what constitutes "immediate family." My family says it's only mother, father and their children. I say it includes their grandchildren, as they are blood related. Please clarify. Thanks.

— Marilyn H., Central Point

It really depends on whom you ask, Marilyn. For example, for most people it's a term explaining who is closest and most important, while in some parts of the country, "immediate family" and "shotgun wedding" are nearly synonymous.

But seriously, it really does depend on who is defining it for you, and how strict their definition is. Hospitals define it one way, employers another, the government still another. Here are some definitions we tracked down:

The Texas Workforce Commission says it's any person related within the first degree of affinity (marriage) or consanguinity (blood) to the person involved, which we presume includes in-laws.

The federal Department of Labor is a bit more stingy, and utterly confusing because it says it doesn't define it, and then sets about defining it: "The (Fair Labor Standards) Act does not define the scope of 'immediate family.' Whether an individual other than a parent, spouse or child will be considered as a member of the employer's immediate family ... does not depend on the fact that he is related by blood or marriage. Other than a parent, spouse or child, only the following persons will be considered to qualify as part of the employer's immediate family: Step-children, foster children, step-parents and foster parents. Other relatives, even when living permanently in the same household as the employer, will not be considered to be part of the 'immediate family.' "

Insurers we found stuck mostly to "mother, father, sister, brother, child, spouse and grandparent, including step and foster relationships." Sorry, cousins.

According to the National Association of Securities Dealers, which labors to impose ethics among stock brokers, immediate family includes parents, brothers, sisters, children, father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and any other relatives who are financially supported.

Providence Medford Medical Center restricts visitors to its critical care unit to "immediate family," but a source there said the patient or next of kin would likely define that term at the time of the visit.

The list goes on. And the definition is fluid. Wal-Mart in 2005 broadened its definition to include domestic partners, for instance. All this is very important when it comes to who has legal rights to insurance and other benefits, etc.

Send questions by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.