Although most don’t like to think or talk about it, preparing for that inevitable day is something we all should do. In order not to leave our loved ones without information, documents, and access to accounts, we should make preparations to avoid our families having even more to deal with than necessary in the event of our death.

And with everything else we must contend with as we prepare, making accommodations for our digital information after we pass should be part of it. We store important documents, usernames and passwords, and financial details on our devices for convenience. But how do our family members access that information when we’re gone?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer that covers every inch of our digital lives. But what we can do here is discuss what happens to your Apple ID and/or iCloud account if you pass away. We’ll share with you what we know along with some suggestions. Hopefully these help you and your family prepare.

Apple ID Online

Your Apple ID and iCloud account terms

When you created your iCloud account, you had a chance to read the terms provided by Apple. But what are the chances you delved into the small print or the part about survivorship? As you’ll see below, you agreed that your account is non-transferable. So if you pass away, you cannot have another person “take over” your account.

D. No Right of Survivorship

Unless otherwise required by law, You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at https://support.apple.com/icloud for further assistance.

Now of course, you may be fine with disallowing another to pick up where you left off with your Apple ID and iCloud account. Maybe your biggest concern is how to allow them access to the digital items instead. You might want them to obtain documents or passwords for other accounts and need access to your Apple ID to do so.

Requesting access to a deceased person’s account

Apple offers up a helpful support document on “Requesting access to a deceased family member’s Apple accounts”. Be sure to read the information in full. In a nutshell, your family needs a court order and several pieces of information to gain access to your account.

We ask that the court order specify:

  • The name and Apple ID of the deceased person.
  • The name of the next of kin who is 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.”
  • That Apple is ordered by the court to assist in the provision of access to the decedent’s information from the deceased person’s accounts.

Once your family member has this information, they should contact Apple Support for assistance to move forward.

Accessing your Apple devices

One important note on the above: While your family may receive help from Apple to access your account, Apple cannot help them unlock your devices.

…devices locked with a passcode are protected by passcode encryption, and unless the next of kin knows the device passcode, Apple will not be able to remove the passcode lock on the device without erasing it.

So basically, if you own an iPhone and no one has the passcode but you, the only thing Apple can do is assist your family member in erasing it. This might be fine if they’re able to gain access to your account and digital assets via iCloud.com. As examples, if you stored documents in iCloud Drive, they should be able to obtain them and if you pay for subscriptions, they should be able to cancel them. But as for any password or financial apps on iPhone, for instance, they’ll likely be out of luck.

What you can do to prepare

Here are some suggestions for what you can do to prepare. These involve listing your digital assets, deciding who you can trust to carry out your wishes, and who in your life may also be tech savvy enough to take care of digital items like your Apple ID and iCloud account.

If you already have a will or estate plan, talk to your attorney or preparer about adding your digital assets. You can also designate a Digital Executor as the person to take care of your accounts and digital items.

Write down your usernames and passwords on a piece of paper and store it in a secure location such as a safety deposit box or with your attorney. Although not ideal because passwords change often, you can keep the most crucial ones safe and update the sheet as needed. You should also choose a family member to be your representative with access to the items and then provide that name to your attorney.

Keep a password-protected document with all usernames, passwords, and account information. You can update this as passwords change and share the document with a loved one, but keep the password with your attorney or in your estate plan so that it’s only shared when the time comes.

Set up emergency access where available. As Popular Science mentions in their article on preparing for this exact thing, services like LastPass offer an Emergency Access feature. This allows a user you select to access your account in the event of your passing.

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Prepare for the unexpected

It’s not pleasant to think about and most family members prefer not to discuss it. But it’s evitable that one day, you’ll no longer be here. Ease the burden on your family by preparing for that day before it’s too late.