How to unlock an Apple device when its owner dies

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

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

A man holds an iPhone in his hand in December 2022 in Baden-Württemberg, Rottweil.

A man holds an iPhone in his hand in December 2022 in Baden-Württemberg, Rottweil.
(Silas Stein/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Here’s how to unlock an iPhone, iPad, or Mac without the passcode

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This first step only works if the owner of the device is deceased backed up data in iCloud. While it’s easy to turn on automatic backups, Apple users sometimes forget and photos and data can only be saved on a phone, tablet, or computer.

If you don’t know the owner’s passcode or password, make sure 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 have backed up your information, you may be able to access a lot of data, including photos, through iCloud.com. Check if one of the owner’s devices automatically signs 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 another device. It’s best to do this on a computer

Sign in with the owner’s Apple ID

If you sign in successfully, you’ll probably be able to access the user’s Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Cloud Drive, Notes, Reminders, and some 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 do have access to the user’s email address, check to see if their login was automatically saved on one of their devices, such as 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 for access iPhone, iPad, Mac data

Go to iCloud.com on another device; It’s 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 login, use it on iCloud.com to sign in and follow the steps above to use an iCloud account to access data

Did the owner of the device 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 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 deceased loved one 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, California Sept. 7, 2022.

A guest holds a new iPhone 14 at an Apple event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California 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 sign-in

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

In the court order you must provide the following information:

Name and Apple ID of the deceased

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, representative or heir of the testator, whose authorization constitutes “lawful consent”.

An iPhone 6s Plus at an Apple Store in Palo Alto, California Sept. 25, 2015.

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

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Apple is then ordered by the court to assist in providing access to the deceased’s information from the deceased person’s accounts. The court order is to be addressed to corresponding Apple entity.

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

This is how you ensure that 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 written down your login information and/or passwords in a safe, secure place. That way, they can still access your photos and other phone apps without having to go through a court order or a complicated reset process.

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

If you use social media, platforms like Facebook offer the ability to nominate someone as a legacy contact.

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