Get access to a loved one’s Apple account by setting up digital legacy contacts

Apple ID settings add or remove a legacy contact

When a family member or loved one passes away, one of the most cherished things people want as keepsakes are all the photos and videos kept on their loved one’s iPhones and Apple iCloud account. 

In the past, you either needed to know their Apple ID username and password or, if that wasn’t available, a court order before Apple would grant access to a deceased person’s Apple account. But things change with iOS 15+.

Starting in iOS 15+, Apple adds a way for Apple users to identify people as digital legacy contacts for their Apple account, should they pass away.

These legacy contacts can request access to their loved one’s Apple ID account and have Apple’s iCloud Activation Lock removed from their Apple devices once they provide a death certificate.

To be clear, adding digital legacy contacts is proactive and must be done by the Apple ID account owner before death

If your loved one recently passed away without establishing a digital legacy contact, then you must follow the old method of getting a court order. See this Apple Support document and learn what you need to do to get access.

We think everyone should set up legacy contacts right away and for those with loved ones and family members using Apple products, help them set up legacy contacts too, so nothing is again lost when a loved one passes away.

How to add or remove Apple account legacy contacts

Apple grants anyone you add as a Legacy Contact access to your account’s data after your death, including photos, messages, documents, notes, purchased apps, contacts, and more.

Legacy contacts can view your data on iCloud’s website, download a copy of your data from privacy.apple.com or restore it from iCloud Backups. Apple can also remove activation lock from your loved one’s devices.

At this time, digital legacy contact cannot access any subscription logins, iCloud Keychain information, credit cards or payment data, or any licensed media files associated with their loved one’s Apple account.

You can add more than one legacy contact to your Apple account. And if necessary, you can also remove a legacy contact.

Apple’s Digital Legacy is available on iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 and later, so make sure you or your loved one’s update to iOS15+ to set up and use this feature.

How to add someone as an Apple digital legacy contact from an iPhone or iPad

Before starting, make sure the person you wish to add as your legacy contact is in your Contacts app. If not, open Contacts and add them first.

Additionally, all legacy contacts must have an Apple ID.

You cannot designate someone as a legacy contact that does not have their own Apple account.

If a person you want to add as a legacy contact does not have an Apple ID, learn how to create a new Apple ID here. They do not need to own an Apple device to create an Apple ID.

Steps to add someone as an Apple ID legacy contact

  1. Open the Settings app and tap on the Apple ID (usually your name) at the top. Apple ID is at the top of the Settings app on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
  2. Choose Passwords & Security.
  3. Scroll down and tap on Legacy Contact. Legacy contacts for Apple ID on iPhone
  4. Tap on Add Legacy Contact. iPhone Apple ID Settings button to add a legacy contact
  5. Tap again on Add Legacy Contact and authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or your Apple ID’s passcode. confirm Add Legacy Contact for Apple ID on iPhone and iPad
  6. Choose someone from your Apple Family Sharing plan or tap Choose Someone Else to open your Contacts app and select a trusted person outside your Apple family plan.
    1. All legacy contacts must have their own Apple ID. choose someone as your Apple ID legacy contact
  7. Choose how you want to share your Access Key with your legacy contact. Apple requires this key to access a deceased loved one’s account. Apple ID legacy contacts get an access key
    1. Options include printing it or send a message. We suggest doing both and adding the printed version to any wills or estate planning documents.
    2. Apple automatically stores your access key in their Apple ID’s account settings if you send a message. text message to add a person as your Apple ID digital legacy contact
  8. Once Apple confirms it added the legacy contact, it asks you to review your Birthday information as this is used to verify your information when a legacy contact requests access. confirm and update your birthday after adding a legacy contact to your Apple ID

To add additional legacy contacts, repeat these steps for each person

How to remove someone as Apple digital legacy contact from an iPhone or iPad

Sometimes, people change roles in our lives. They pass away or become unable to act as stewards to our digital records. In that case, it’s important to remove and update your legacy contacts.

When you remove a person as a digital legacy contact, they can no longer download your data from your Apple account following your death.

Removing someone as Apple digital legacy contact is easy

  1. Open the Settings app and tap your Apple ID at the top (usually your name.)
  2. Select Passwords & Security.
  3. Tap on Legacy Contact.
  4. Look under Your Legacy Contact and choose the contact you want to remove. List of Apple digital legacy contact in the Apple ID settings on iPhone
  5. Tap on Remove Contact and confirm. Remove an Apple ID digital legacy contact from your iPhone Apple ID Settings

Review your Apple ID digital legacy contacts and their access keys

Once you set up all your legacy contacts, you can review and print their access keys for your records or if a legacy contact lost their copy.

  1. Open the Settings app and tap your Apple ID at the top.
  2. Select Passwords & Security and choose Legacy Contact.
  3. Look under Your Legacy Contact and choose a contact that you want to review the access key for. List of people you added as your Apple ID legacy contacts on iPhone or iPad
  4. Select View Access Key. Apple ID digital legacy contact access key view on iPhone
  5. Review the information. You can print a copy, copy and paste the access key’s code, or use the QR code to open the Access Key. See your apple id digital legacy contacts access code and print or scan its QR code

How to access a loved one’s Apple account when you are a digital legacy contact

Once a loved one assigns you as one of their digital legacy contacts, when they pass away, each of the designated contacts can request access to that person’s Apple account to download its data for safekeeping.

This includes photos, videos, notes, documents, contacts, calendar events, device backups, and purchased apps.

Additionally, Apple removes the activation lock on any Apple devices signed in with your loved one’s Apple ID.

To gain this access, Apple requires proof of your loved one’s death and your relationship to the deceased to remove the activation lock on their devices.

How to access a loved one’s Apple account as a designated legacy contact

  1. Following the death of your loved one, obtain a legal copy of their death certificate. You will need to provide this to Apple to verify their passing away.
  2. Make sure you have the digital legacy access key your loved one provided to you and that you know their legal birthday, including month, day, and year.
  3. Go to your iPhone’s Settings app > Apple ID > Password & Security > Legacy Contact and choose the person listed under You Are Legacy Contact For.
    1. You can also visit Apple’s Digital Legacy site portal.
    2. You can view your access key by tapping View Access Key.
    3. Review the requirements (in particular, that you have the access key) and tap Request Access. Apple ID digital legacy contact how to request access to someone's iCloud and Apple account after passing away
  4. If you do not have all the requirements, can’t locate your access key, or were not listed as a legacy contact, tap I don’t have an access key to learn what you can do.
  5. Sign in to YOUR Apple ID account.
    1. You can only get access when you have an Apple ID.
    2. Follow the instructions to verify your right to access your loved one’s Apple ID.

Legacy contacts have a limited time (TBD) to access their loved one’s data. Once this deadline passes, Apple deletes all the loved one’s data, and you cannot access it. 

Don’t have or lost an access key?

If you are a listed legacy contact but don’t have an access key, you won’t be able to access your loved one’s data from their iCloud account and devices. However, you can request to remove Apple’s Activation Lock on their device.

To have Apple remove the activation lock, you must submit proof of death documents and be a decedent of the deceased person. Only then will Apple remove the device’s activation lock.

Unfortunately, you cannot recover any data from a loved one locked with a passcode or Face ID and Touch ID without an access key. Unless you know the device’s passcode, Apple cannot remove that passcode lock and will erase the device for you to use then.

Don’t want to be someone’s Apple digital legacy contact?

If someone identified you as one of their legacy contacts for their Apple ID, but you no longer want that responsibility, you can remove yourself.

  1. Go to your iPhone’s Settings app > Apple ID > Password & Security > Legacy Contact.
  2. Under You Are Legacy Contact For, tap on the name of that person. List of contact that you are the Apple ID legacy contact for in iPhone settings app
  3. Tap Remove and confirm. Apple ID digital legacy contact remove yourself from someone's legacy contact list

Final thoughts

When we lose someone, the photos, videos, and other data on their mobile devices are memories we want to hold onto and save. That’s why it is so important to establish your legacy contacts for your Apple ID and help others in your family and friends do the same.

With Apple’s digital legacy program, we can save all those precious moments and share them with everyone who loved them and for future generations to see.

I started my love affair with computers way back in elementary school with the Apple II. Since then, I've worked with technology in my career as a media educator and videomaker. I have an MFA in media making from Temple University, where I also taught undergrads as an adjunct faculty member. So I know a thing or two about teaching others and creating how-to guides! After a cancer diagnosis, I turned to mobile technology like my Apple Watch to help me monitor my health throughout my chemotherapy treatment and later, to regain my wellness once in remission. I love sharing how to understand and use mobile tech, like smartwatches and phones, as a tool for empowerment to live our best and healthiest lives!

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