How to unlock an Apple device when the owner dies

How to unlock an Apple device when the owner dies

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

I have compiled the steps you should follow to unlock an Apple device if the owner dies.

This first step will only work if the device’s late owner has backed up data to iCloud. Although it’s easy to turn on automatic backup, sometimes Apple users forget to do this, and photos and data can only be viewed on a phone, tablet or computer.

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

If you have access to an iCloud login and they’ve backed up their information, you may be able to access a lot of data, including photos, through iCloud.com. Check if any of the owner’s devices sign in to iCloud automatically, and if not, follow the steps below.

Use iCloud.com to access data

Go to iCloud.com on another device. It is best to do this on a computer.

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Sign in with the owner’s Apple ID.

If you successfully log in, you’ll likely get access to the user’s email, contacts, calendar, photos, Cloud Drive, notes, reminders, and a few other apps if they used them.

You can download photos directly from iCloud.com.

If you don’t have access to an Apple ID, but do have access to the user’s email, check if the login was automatically saved on one of their devices, such as another computer or tablet.

A man holding and using a smartphone.
You can download photos directly from iCloud.com.
Getty Images

Using an email to access iPhone, iPad, Mac data

Go to iCloud.com on another device; it is best to do this on a computer.

Click on Forgot Apple ID or password?

Use the user’s iCloud email address to reset the password.

Open the user’s email account and you should see the email with instructions on resetting an iCloud account.

Once you have the new login, use it on iCloud.com to sign in and follow the steps above to use an iCloud account to access data.

People on smartphones.
You can set up a legacy contact on your devices in case of unexpected death.
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Did the owner of the device have an older contact?

Many Apple users may not know that you can set up a legacy contact on your devices in case of unexpected death. If the device owner configured a legacy contact, accessing this data should be very easy. Legacy contacts are available on iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2, or macOS 12.1 or later.

If your deceased loved one has created an older contact, visit Apple’s Digital Legacy to request access.

Pro tip for Apple users: Set up a legacy contact if you haven’t already.

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How to request access to a device without an iCloud login

If none of the above steps worked and you want to request access from Apple to access your deceased loved one’s iCloud login, a court order may be required.

You must provide the following information in the court order:

The name and Apple ID of the deceased person.

The name of the next of kin requesting access to the deceased’s account.

That the deceased was the user of all accounts linked to the Apple ID.

That the petitioner is the deceased’s legal personal representative, agent or heir whose authorization constitutes “legal consent”.

Apple is then ordered by the court to assist in providing access to the deceased’s information from the deceased’s accounts. The court order should be addressed relevant Apple device.

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

How to make sure loved ones can access your data

In the event of an emergency or death, you want to be sure that your loved ones still have access to your data. Make sure a trusted loved one has login information and/or password written down in a safe, protected place. That way, they can still access your photos and other phone apps without having to go through a court order or complicated reset process.

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

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

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