How to unlock an Apple device when its owner dies

If you’ve recently lost a friend or family member, you may be looking to gain access to your loved one’s phone, computer or tablet in order to retrieve personal data left behind. Whether you’re looking for photos, passwords or other information, it’s frustrating when you don’t know the passcode to access it easily.

I’ve gathered the steps you should follow to unlock an Apple device if its owner dies.

A man holds an iPhone in December 2022 in Rottweil, Baden-W├╝rttemberg.

A man holds an iPhone in December 2022 in Rottweil, Baden-W├╝rttemberg.
(Coalition photo via Silas Stein/Getty Images)

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This first step will only work if the late owner of the device back up data to icloud, Although it’s easy to turn on automatic backups, sometimes Apple users forget to do so and photos and data may just end up on the phone, tablet, or computer.

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

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

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Using iCloud.com to access data

Go to iCloud.com on a different device. best to do it on a computer

Log in using the owner’s Apple ID

If you log in successfully, you’re likely to be able to access the user’s Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Photos, Cloud Drives, Notes, Reminders, and some other apps if they use them.

You can download photos directly from iCloud.com

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

Woman using smartphone at desk.

Woman using smartphone at desk.
(iStock)

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use email to access iPhone, iPad, Mac Data

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

FORGOT YOUR 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 an email with instructions on how to reset the iCloud account

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

Did the device owner have a legacy contact?

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

If your deceased loved one has established a legacy contact, visit Apple’s Digital Legacy to request access.

A guest holds a new iPhone 14 at Apple's headquarters on September 7, 2022 in Cupertino, California.

A guest holds a new iPhone 14 at Apple’s headquarters on September 7, 2022 in Cupertino, California.
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

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Pro tip for Apple users: If you don’t already have a legacy contact, set one up.

How to request access to a device without iCloud login

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

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

Deceased person’s name and Apple ID

Name of the next of kin requesting access to the deceased’s account

that the decedent was a user of all accounts associated with the Apple ID

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

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

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

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Then, Apple is ordered by a court to assist in the provision of access to the deceased person’s information from the deceased person’s accounts. Court order must be addressed Relevant Apple unit.

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

How to make sure your loved ones can access your data

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

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

If you use social media, platforms such as Facebook offer the option to designate someone as your legacy contact.

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