Losing a loved one is tough and, with all the information we keep in digital form these days, it can be increasingly hard for next of kin to gain access to all sorts of important documents and data.
It's a problem Apple aims to solve, at least in part, with Digital Legacy — a new program launching with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey — that will allow elected individuals to gain access to a relative's account in the event of them passing away.
Here's everything you need to know about it.
What is Digital Legacy?
In short, Apple's Digital Legacy program is a way for someone you choose to access your digital information stored in iCloud after you die. It's not nice to think about, but given how much of our lives are lived in digital form, this could prove hugely helpful.
As Mike Abbott, VP of Apple Cloud Services, put it when announcing the upcoming feature at WWDC:
"We don't often think about it, but it's important that we can easily pass down information to family members or friends when we pass away. So you'll now be able to add people to your account as Legacy Contacts. So when you're gone, they can request access, and your information can be passed along quickly and easily."
Picture it this way. You pass away, and all of your photos, contacts, documents, notes, and more are locked behind your Apple ID password that you never told anyone.
Keeping your password to yourself is the right call, but that makes it impossible for relatives to access your information once you're no longer around. So what Digital Legacy allows you to do is keep that best iPhone security practice in place while naming select friends or family members as Legacy Contacts who can then request your data in the event of your death.
Those named people can contact Apple to receive a copy of your important data stored in iCloud in the event of your death.
What sort of data is available for Legacy Contacts?
Chosen Legacy Contacts will be able to access data like photos, notes, and iCloud mail. Apple explicitly states that iCloud Keychain, payment information, subscriptions, and licensed media will not be accessible.
A Legacy Contact can view the deceased person's data on iCloud.com or download a copy. Additionally, an iCloud backup can be restored onto an iOS or iPadOS device, and data is also accessible on a Mac.
Note, this data is only available in the event of the account owner's death and after Apple has approved a request — it's not automatically available to all Legacy Contacts in real-time.
How do I add Legacy Contacts?
Though the feature isn't officially available yet, we know from the iOS beta that it will be fairly straightforward to add friends and family members as Legacy Contacts via the Password & Security section of your Apple ID settings.
Once you do, Apple will generate an Access Key which your Legacy Contact will need to download your data in the event of your death. When adding a Legacy Contact, you get the option to print a copy of this Access Key or send it to them as a PDF. You will be able to find this Access Key again through your settings if you don't share it right away.
I am a Legacy Contact, so how do I request access to a loved one's account?
If a friend or family member has sadly passed away and you were already set up as a Legacy Contact for them, you will be able to request their data from Apple at its dedicated Digital Legacy site.
You'll need to provide the person's death certificate and the Access Key that was created when you were added as a Legacy Contact.
Once Apple approves your request, you will be able to download a copy of their data, and Activation Lock will be removed from their devices.
Will my data be available to Legacy Contacts forever?
No. Once Apple approves a Legacy Contact request, there will be a limited time for them to download a copy of the deceased individual's data before Apple deletes the account permanently.
How do Legacy Contacts differ from Recovery Contacts?
Alongside Digital Legacy, Apple also announced a new feature for gaining access to your account if you forget your password in the form of Recovery Contacts. Other than the timing of their announcement, these features are unrelated.
Recovery Contacts is simply another way for you to regain access to your account if you forget your password or get locked out, as Abbott described it at WWDC:
"You'll now have the option to add people you trust, like family and friends, to a Recovery Contact list. They won't get any access to your account, but if you ever forget your password, you can call them to get the code you need to get right back in. It's fast, easy, and secure."
With Recovery Contacts, you are still accessing your own account. Your trusted contact is simply providing you with a code that has been given to them by Apple when you need it.
On the other hand, Digital Legacy is a feature that allows someone else to access your account but only in the event of your death. Legacy Contacts and Recovery Contacts do not have to be the same people.
Do you still have questions about Apple's new Digital Legacy program? Sound off in the comments, and we'll aim to get everything answered and keep this guide up to date as the new feature rolls out.
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