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February 8, 2023

If you recently lost a friend or family member, you may want to gain access to your loved one’s phone, computer, or tablet for leftover personal data. Whether you’re looking for photos, passwords, or other information, it can be frustrating when you don’t know the password and can’t easily access it.

I’ve collected the steps you should follow to unlock an Apple device after the owner’s death.

Rottweil, Baden-Wurttemberg, December 2022. A man holds an iPhone in his hand.
(Silas Stein/Image Alliance via Getty Images)

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This first step is only required if the deceased owner of the device Backup data to iCloud. While it’s easy to turn on automatic backups, sometimes Apple users forget to do so and the photos and data may only exist on the phone, tablet or computer.

If you don’t know the owner’s password or password, check to see if you have their iCloud login. iCloud login uses email, so try a common password or see if they leave a list of passwords.

If you have access to an iCloud login, and they have backed up their information, you can access a lot of data, including photos, through iCloud.com. Check to see if any of the owner’s devices are automatically signed into iCloud, and if not, follow the steps below.

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Access data using iCloud.com

Visit iCloud.com on another device.It’s best to do this on a computer

Sign in with the owner’s Apple ID

If you log in successfully, you will likely be able to access the user’s mail, contacts, calendar, photos, cloud drives, notes, reminders, and some other apps (if they used one)

You can download photos directly from iCloud.com

If you do not have access to the Apple ID but do have access to the user’s email, check to see if their login information has been automatically saved on any of their devices (such as another computer or tablet)

A woman uses a smartphone at her desk.

A woman uses a smartphone at her desk.
(iStock)

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access by email iPhone, iPad, Mac data

Visit iCloud.com on a different device; best done on a computer

Click Forgot your Apple ID or password?

Reset password using user’s iCloud email address

Open the user’s email account and you should see an email with instructions to reset the iCloud account

Once you have your new login, log in with it on iCloud.com and follow the steps above to access your data with your iCloud account

Does the owner of the device have old contacts?

Many Apple users may not know that you can set legacy contacts on your device in case of accidental death. If the device’s owner did set up legacy contacts, accessing that data should be pretty easy. Legacy Contacts is available on iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or macOS 12.1 or later.

If your deceased loved one did set up an estate contact, please visit Apple’s Digital Estate to request access.

A guest holds the new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 7, 2022.

A guest holds the new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 7, 2022.
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

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Pro tip for Apple users: If you haven’t set up legacy contacts, do so.

How to request access to a device without iCloud sign-in

If none of the steps above work, and you wish to apply to Apple for access to your deceased loved one’s iCloud login, a court order may be required.

You will need to provide the following information with the court order:

The deceased’s name and Apple ID

Names of next of kin requesting access to the account of the deceased

The deceased was a user of all accounts associated with the Apple ID

The requester is the legal personal representative, agent or heir of the deceased whose authorization constitutes “legal consent”

An iPhone 6s Plus is seen at an Apple retail store on September 25, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.

An iPhone 6s Plus is seen at an Apple retail store on September 25, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.
(Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

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The court then ordered Apple to assist in providing access to the deceased’s information from the deceased’s account.Court orders should be sent to Related Apple Entities.

You can also try visiting an Apple Store or contacting Apple Support to see other options.

How to make sure loved ones have access to your data

In the event of an emergency or death, you want to make sure your loved ones still have access to your data. Make sure a trusted loved one records your login information and/or password in a safe, protected location. This way they can still access your photos and other phone apps without going through a court order or complicated reset process.

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If your phone provider offers a traditional contact option, set it up now.

If you use social media, platforms like Facebook offer an option to name someone your legacy contact.



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