How to Unlock an Apple Device When Its Owner Dies

If you recently lost a friend or family member, you may be looking to access a loved one’s phone, computer, or tablet to recover personal data. Whether you’re looking for photos, passwords, or other information, it’s frustrating not knowing a password to simply gain access.

I’ve put together the steps to unlock an Apple device if its owner dies.

This first step will only work if the late owner of the device backed up the data to iCloud. While it’s easy to turn on automatic backups, sometimes Apple users forget to do so, and photos and data can only live on a phone, tablet, or computer.

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

If you have access to an iCloud login and they have 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 automatically sign in to iCloud, 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.

Sign in using the owner’s Apple ID.

If you log in successfully, you will probably be able to access the user’s Mail, 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 you do have access to the user’s email, check to see if their login was auto-saved on one of their devices, such as another computer or tablet.

You can download photos directly from iCloud.com.
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Use Email to Access iPhone, iPad, Mac Data

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

Click 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 the email with instructions on how to reset an iCloud account.

Once you have the new connection, 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 an old contact on your devices in case of unexpected death.
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Did the owner of the device have a previous contact?

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

If your deceased loved one has set up a Legacy Contact, visit Apple’s Digital Legacy to request access.

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

How to request access to a device without iCloud connection

If none of the above steps worked and you want to request access from Apple to gain access to 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:

The deceased person’s name and Apple ID.

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

That the deceased was the user of all accounts associated with the Apple ID.

That the applicant is the legal personal representative, agent or heir of the deceased whose authorization constitutes “legitimate consent”.

Then Apple is ordered by the court to help provide access to the deceased’s information from the deceased’s accounts. The court order should be addressed to applicable Apple entity.

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

How to make sure your loved ones can access your data

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

If your phone carrier offers an old contact option, set it up now.

If you use social media, platforms like Facebook offer the option of naming someone as your legacy contact.

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