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How to unlock an Apple device when its owner dies

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

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

A man holds an iPhone in his hand in December 2022 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rottweil.
(Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)

How to unlock an iPhone, iPad or Mac without the passcode 

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This first step will only work if the device’s late owner backed up data to iCloud. While it’s easy to turn on automatic backups, sometimes Apple users forget to do this and photos and data may only live 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 left a list of passwords. 

If you have access to an iCloud login, and they backed up their information, you may be able to access a lot of data, including photos, via iCloud.com. Check if any of the owner’s devices log in to iCloud automatically, 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. It’s best to do this on a computer

Log in using the owner’s Apple ID 

If you successfully log in, you’ll likely 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 have access to the user’s email, check if their login was auto-saved on any of their devices like another computer or tablet

A woman using a smartphone at a desk.

A woman using a smartphone at a desk.
(iStock)

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Using an email to access iPhone, iPad, Mac data

Go to iCloud.com on a different device; it’s best to do this on a computer 

Click Forgotten 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 resetting an iCloud account 

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

Did the device’s owner have a legacy contact? 

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

If your late loved one did set up a legacy contact, visit Apple’s digital legacy to request access. 

A guest holds a new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Sept. 7, 2022.  

A guest holds a new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Sept. 7, 2022.  
(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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

How to request access to a device without iCloud login 

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

You’ll need to 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 decedent’s account 

That the decedent was the user of all accounts associated with the Apple ID 

That the requestor is the decedent’s legal personal representative, agent or heir whose authorization constitutes “lawful consent” 

An iPhone 6s Plus at an Apple retail store in Palo Alto, Calif., Sept. 25, 2015.

An iPhone 6s Plus at an Apple retail store in Palo Alto, Calif., Sept. 25, 2015.
(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

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Then, Apple is ordered by the court to assist in the provision of access to the decedent’s information from the deceased person’s accounts. The court order should be addressed to the relevant Apple entity. 

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

How to ensure loved ones can access your data 

In case of an emergency or death, you want to be sure your loved ones can still access your data. Make sure one trusted loved one has your login information and/or passwords written down in a safe, protected location. That 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 contact option, set that up now. 

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

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