02 February 2022

Trying to access the important data locked into the phone of a deceased relative can be a logistical nightmare. But now Apple has launched a new Digital Legacy program to overcome this problem. Senior Associate Solicitor and Director Naomi Dyer reports.

Advances in mobile phone technology have seen us progress from “just a telephone” resembling “a small brick” into the sleek powerful devices that many of us now use. Our phones are now cameras to take photos with, a speaker to listen to music on, a screen to watch films or videos with, or a pocket-sized personal assistant/trainer to help manage our personal and working days. There really is an app for every whim, easily downloadable, straight onto your phone.

All this data remains locked safely within the phone through a combination of passwords, unique thumbprints, or other security measures. However, such protection can mean that without careful forward planning, a sudden unexpected death of a family member could lead to their mobile phone blocking access to their personal or professional material. Under the iCloud Terms of Service, the deceased person’s data would effectively die with them.

Apple is now attempting to simplify this problem for users of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and other such devices, to provide a trustworthy solution moving forwards. In its recent iOS update (15.2), it has introduced its new Digital Legacy program.

Digital Legacy allows the individual to select and send a message via their phone to a maximum of five people requesting that they become Legacy Contacts. They are most likely to be family members or friends but could also perhaps be trusted professionals like Solicitors or Accountants who may have been, for example, appointed as Executors to act in their Will.

When the Legacy Contact is notified, the message shares a unique access key with them, and this is then automatically stored in their Apple I.D settings. Additionally, Apple do still require proof of death via a death certificate meaning that nobody can attempt to access the data whilst the individual is still alive. It would be prudent to check with your Legacy contact that they are happy to have this responsibility before sending the message and if they do not own an apple device themselves or perhaps it is too old to update to iOS 15.2, you can instead print a copy of the access key for them or alternatively leave such information with your Will.

After you have died, your chosen Legacy Contacts would be able to access your Apple account data from the phone in a simplified and organised manner instead of the alternative, which could be a timely, expensive, and likely unsuccessful legal battle with Apple, who would fight to protect their customer’s privacy.

At Battens, we would suggest that when you prepare new Wills or update existing ones, careful consideration is given to your digital data and suitable precautions put in place to assist loved ones after death.

For more information contact Naomi Dyer on 01935 814811 or email