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Apple in iOS 15.2 is making it easier for your loved ones to access your personal data in the event of your death with the addition of a Legacy Contact feature. A person set as your Legacy Contact gets a special code that can be provided to Apple alongside a death certificate to unlock your device.

apple-ios-15-2-legacy-contact-feature.jpg

The Legacy Contact that you set will have access to your Messages, photos, notes, and other sensitive data, plus the ability to remove Activation Lock from your devices, so it is an opt-in feature and should be reserved for your most trusted contact. This how to walks you through how to enable Legacy Contacts, covers how to get to the data after a death, and outlines some of the data that will be accessible.

iOS 15.2 is available in a beta capacity at the current time, but it will launch to the public later this fall.

How to Add a Legacy Contact

Adding a Legacy Contact takes just a few steps, but both people involved in the process need to be running iOS 15.2 or later.
  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap on your profile picture to get to your Apple ID settings.
  3. Tap on Password &Security.
  4. Tap on Legacy Contact.
    legacy-contact-setup.jpg
  5. Tap on Add Legacy Contact.
  6. At the pop up screen that describes the feature, tap on Add Legacy Contact.
  7. Authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or a password.
  8. Apple will suggest members of your family if you have Family Sharing enabled. Tap on a family member's name or select "Choose Someone Else" to pick from your contacts list.
  9. Once a person has been selected, tap Next.
    legacy-contact-setup-2.jpg
  10. At the screen that describes how Legacy Contact works, tap Continue.
  11. Choose how to share your Access Key. You can send an iMessage to a contact with your key, or you can print a copy of it.
    legacy-contact-share-access-key.jpg
  12. Once you've sent a message or printed your Legacy Contact info, the person is officially set as the person who can request your data.
  13. Repeat the process if you want to set another Legacy Contact. You can have multiple.
Legacy Contact Access Key

For security purposes, Apple reviews all requests from legacy contacts before providing access to data. Your Legacy Contact will need access to your date of birth, your death certificate, and the access key that you set up.

legacy-contact-access-key-message.jpg

The access key is printed or sent in an iMessage, and it must be saved in a secure location by the person who you have set as your contact. Apple provides a very long multi-digit key that's a mix of letters and numbers and an easy-to-scan QR code. Apple provides the following information to your contact.
As [person]'s legacy contact, you will be able to access data from [person]'s account and remove Activation Lock on their devices after their death.
Because date of birth is used as an authentication measure, your birth date needs to be accurately set in your device's setting. You can ensure it's set by opening the Settings app, tapping on your profile picture, selecting "Name, Phone Numbers, Email" and adding or updating it by tapping on the "Birthday" listing.

How Your Legacy Contact Can Get Your Data When You Die

In the event of your death, your Legacy Contact will need to collect the access key that was provided to them when they were set as a contact as well as a copy of your death certificate.

Apple instructs your Legacy Contact to visit digital-legacy.apple.com to begin the authentication process. The Legacy Contact will need to sign in with their Apple ID and provide the necessary information to Apple.

apple-digital-legacy-website.jpg

For getting access to your data, an access key is a must. If no access key is available, your family can still remove Activation Lock from your devices, but your account and data will need to be removed first and the process requires a death certificate.

There is a wait time to get approved through the Digital Legacy process that Apple has implemented, and status updates are available on the Digital Legacy website.

Data Available to Your Legacy Contact

Your Legacy Contact will have access to the following data on your devices.
  • Photos
  • Messages
  • Notes
  • Files
  • Downloaded apps and their associated data
  • Contacts
  • Calendar Events
  • Device Backups
iCloud Keychain logins and passwords will not be made available, or will any licensed media.

According to Apple, your Legacy Contact can view your data on iCloud.com, or download a copy from privacy.apple.com. Data can also be viewed directly on an Apple device.

How to Remove a Legacy Contact

You can remove a Legacy Contact that you've set at any time, revoking access to your data. Here's how:
  1. Open up the Settings app.
  2. Tap on your profile picture to get to your Apple ID settings.
  3. Tap on Password & Security.
  4. Tap on Legacy Contact.
  5. Tap on the name of the person whose access you want to remove.
    remove-legacy-contact.jpg
  6. Select Remove Contact.
  7. At the warning that pops up telling you the person won't be able to access your data after your death, select Remove Contact.
From there, the person will be removed and the access key that they were provided with will no longer work for accessing your data after your death.

Guide Feedback

Have questions about the Legacy Contact feature or want to provide feedback on this guide? Send us an email here.

Article Link: How to Use Apple's Legacy Contact Feature to Let Your Family Access Your Photos and Data After You Die
 
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friedmud

macrumors 65816
Jul 11, 2008
1,362
1,158
This is a really important feature. So much of our lives is in our phones and our accounts all over the place (Facebook, etc.) - everyone should have a plan in place for passing that on to your loved ones.

I applaud Apple for making this a first-rate feature. I’m sure it will get even better with time.
 

kinless

macrumors regular
Apr 2, 2003
164
235
Tustin, California
They should expand this to macOS as well. My poor sister lost her son (my nephew) a few months ago. She took his MacBook to the Apple Store to try and get photos off of it but without the password they wouldn't help her at all.

It's an older 2008 MacBook with an outdated OS, so if FileVault wasn't used then it may be possible to yank the drive and salvage photos that way. Sure couldn't attempt that with today's machines...
 

Darth.Titan

macrumors 68030
Oct 31, 2007
2,846
629
Austin, TX
so if I read this correctly your data will have to be in iCloud, right? no access to your device directly, eg that code unlocks my iPhone is not possible? @jclo
Second line of the article seems to indicate unlocking your iPhone is possible:
A person set as your Legacy Contact gets a special code that can be provided to Apple alongside a death certificate to unlock your device.
 

jz0309

Contributor
Sep 25, 2018
4,530
12,869
Temecula, CA
Second line of the article seems to indicate unlocking your iPhone is possible:
yea, but the section "data available ..." is unclear, eg it lists device backup but not mail, and clearly backup data is nota on the device, and if I have access to the device, why could I not read mail?
Maybe it will get further clarified upon release ...
 

jz0309

Contributor
Sep 25, 2018
4,530
12,869
Temecula, CA
What about voice memos are those also available?
IF you could unlock a device, then the answer would be yes ... but, but, if you can unlock a device with Apple's help and a death certificate - the FBI could issue a death certificate, couldn't they? I am not liking this anymore at all.
Edit: since you have to designate a contact to be that person to get access, I might be wrong ... got to think this through further
 
Last edited:

andyyau

macrumors member
Jul 17, 2012
80
81
They should expand this to macOS as well. My poor sister lost her son (my nephew) a few months ago. She took his MacBook to the Apple Store to try and get photos off of it but without the password they wouldn't help her at all.

It's an older 2008 MacBook with an outdated OS, so if FileVault wasn't used then it may be possible to yank the drive and salvage photos that way. Sure couldn't attempt that with today's machines...
2008 Macbook used 2.5" hard disk drive. It is very easy to open the back cover with/without a screw driver. And then remove the hard disk. Get an external 2.5" hard disk enclosure and install the disk into it. Finally plug the external hard disk to any Mac.

 

jz0309

Contributor
Sep 25, 2018
4,530
12,869
Temecula, CA
The back door which governments around the world have asked for served up with a nice customer-facing feature as a bonus.
actually no: the owner/user of say the iPhone has to designate a contact with an appleid as said contact, and said contact gets issues a key ... so, if government abc wanted to access persons xyzzy iPhone, they don't have that key, or do they?
 
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Deguello

macrumors 65816
Jun 29, 2008
1,167
861
Texas
My keychain logins and passwords would be the most useful things for them to have, imo. I’ll stick with a more ham-fisted and fallible way of getting my credentials to them, for now.
 
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