Family situations can be messy. Whatever your situation, it’s likely nothing a security clearance background investigator hasn’t seen before. Complicated family scenarios can leave many individuals to wonder if they even have to list relatives at all – particularly if they are individuals the applicant has literally never had contact with.

LIsting unknown Relatives on Your SF-86

The short answer is – yes – you need to list all relatives required by the SF-86, even individuals you may have never met. Whether it’s a dad you never knew or a half sibling you only heard about at a funeral – if you know there to be a relative out there, it’s better to list it than to have a background investigator discover it. The follow-up question is – how hard do you need to work to go about providing information about these relatives on the SF-86? You don’t need to become a background investigator yourself, but you will look lazy at best and negligent or untruthful at worse if your background investigator finds information about your relatives with something as simple as a Google search.

If your relatives are foreign nationals, or have a criminal history, it would not be advisable that you go out and proactively contact them and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking to work for the U.S. government, and they may contact you!’ Simply list what you do know, and use the additional comments section of your security clearance application to provide the nature of your relationship – or the fact that it doesn’t exist.

Looking for Honesty

As always, the greatest risk to your security clearance eligibility is dishonesty. The government will not find your family situation shocking – even if your family is a prime candidate for the Maury Povich show. Always keep in form what the form is asking for. It’s not wondering if you’re in touch with specific relatives – it’s asking who they are. You will be judged on your own reliability and trustworthiness, and not that of your family members. If your family has issues and you’ve separated yourself from them, that is a key mitigating factor.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer