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Apple’s Digital Legacy Feature: What Happens to Your Data When You Pass Away

Apple users have the opportunity to assign legacy contacts so trusted individuals can access their files after they pass. Learn how!

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Apple users have the opportunity to assign legacy contacts so trusted individuals can access their files after they pass.

In today’s digital world, you’ll see family members going to court fighting for access to their deceased loved one’s data. Other big tech players such as Google and Facebook have had their legacy systems in place for a while. Apple has just recently implemented its own legacy system.

Before the legacy system was implemented, immediate family members had no way of accessing their deceased relative’s iCloud account or unlock the phone without knowing the passcode.

Apple has included this mechanic in the iCloud terms of service. It states that no matter the nature of a user’s death, their data goes with them. Even if relatives provide a death certificate, they’ll be given no access.

Why won’t Apple let surviving families access data?

Apple is known for being a big advocate for user privacy protection. 

We’ve seen Apple go to great lengths to keep its users’ information private. The well-known App Tracking Transparency framework was one of the most popular efforts by the company to protect user information, and even that effort drew criticism from advertising platforms such as Facebook.

While users who opt not to be tracked by advertisers and other third parties benefit from the App Tracking Transparency framework, Apple’s Digital Legacy is different.

It involves working with grieving families who are demanding access to their deceased loved one’s data for various reasons. 

Apple knows it’s not a simple thing to release someone’s private data, even to a person’s close relatives, and that’s where Apple is trying to balance the scale.

How will the Data Legacy work?

Apple will require user-assigned legacy contacts to show proof of death and provide an access key. This may sound tedious, but it’s much simpler than the process the company had in place before the program.

Before the Digital Legacy program is accessible outside of the iOS 15.2 beta, individuals who want access to a deceased relative’s data will need to secure a court order confirming a right to inheritance, but that won’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll be granted access.

How to assign your legacy contacts

As long as your iPhone is on iOS 15.2, here’s how you set up your iCloud legacy contacts:

  1. Go to Settings > your Apple ID > Password & Security.
  2. Under Legacy Contact, follow the instructions written to add a legacy contact.
    1. If you’re using Family Sharing, it’s as simple as choosing a family member from the list.
    2. If they’re not on Family Sharing with you, you can add your preferred contact using their email or phone number.
  3. The access key that will be required by Apple to give your legacy contact access to your data when the time comes will be shared via Messages.
    1. Note that legacy contacts you add may decline, and you will receive a notification that says so.
  4. If the legacy contact you want to add isn’t using iOS 15.2, the access key won’t be stored in their device’s settings.
    1. You should share it with them in another way, such as emailing the access key and asking them to store it in a safe place.

When will the Legacy Contact feature be available?

As of now, this feature is only available in the public beta version of iOS 15.2. It will be accessible to everyone when it arrives in the Software Updates tab of their iPhone’s settings.

Apple has also stated that the Legacy Contact feature will be available on macOS.

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