Something is always left behind when a loved one passes away. As our devices become increasingly intertwined with our lives, they're also becoming something to think about when someone dies. Our iPhones often contain years of photos, contacts, message threads, and phone calls, and it makes sense that if someone you love has died you might want to hold on to some of that.
Unfortunately, if the person protected their iPhone with a passcode, your options are limited. Apple builds its devices with security and privacy in mind, and won't (and often can't) unlock them for you if you don't have the passcode. However, there are some steps you might be able to take in order to get around these restrictions. Keep in mind, however, that at least some of these steps might not work.
- Erase and restore
- Restore from an iCloud backup
- Restore from an iTunes backup
- If you don't have access to the iCloud account or device password
If your loved one used iCloud, and you have access to the email account that they used for it, you could use that email account to reset the password to the iCloud account, and possibly gain access to the content you're looking for from iCloud. This assumes that the person in question used tools like iCloud Photo Library to keep photos in sync or iCloud Drive to sync documents and other files.
Erase and restore
The method most likely to show results is erasing your loved one's iPhone and restoring it from a backup. You can do this either through iCloud or iTunes.
Restore from an iCloud backup
Once again, you'll need your loved one's iCloud credentials to use this method. You can erase the iPhone and restore it from an iCloud backup, which will restore the iPhone's content, but not its passcode.
Restore from an iTunes backup
If the person used a Mac or PC and connected their iPhone to it, you can use this method if you have access to and can get into that computer. Plug the iPhone into the computer with a USB-to-Lightning or USB-to-30-pin cable and open iTunes. You can restore the iPhone from an unencrypted backup (or an encrypted one, if you know the password), or create a new unencrypted backup and restore from that.
As with an iCloud backup, restoring from an iTunes backup will restore the content of the iPhone, but not its passcode. Note that you won't be able to use this method with a Mac or PC that the person didn't use, as you'd need the iPhone's passcode in order to allow it to trust the computer and send data back and forth.
If you don't have access to the iCloud account or device password
Apple's policies make it difficult for a person to access someone's Apple-related accounts or devices, and for good reason. The flip side of this is that, once a person is gone, it can be difficult to access things like photos and other treasured memories if they didn't share their Apple ID or device passwords with you before they died. This is particularly common in cases where someone has passed on suddenly.
If you don't have access to your loved one's Apple ID or the password for their iPhone or iPad, there are steps you can take to access content held by those accounts. Apple can't just unlock a device for you, particularly if it's protected by Activation Lock. Instead, your best bet is to request that Apple transfer the deceased's Apple ID to you, which will provide you with the ability to access their iCloud account and any content stored within.
Do start this process, you'll need to contact Apple Support. You'll also need to provide Apple with a copy of your loved one's death certificate. And, according to some users on Reddit, you may need that person's power of attorney. Unfortunately, it's hard to know for anyone that hasn't gone through this process, as Apple doesn't provide a standard form that you can use for these requests.
Once the iCloud account is transferred, you can head to iCloud.com to view and download anything stored on iCloud, from photos to documents stored on iCloud Drive, or restore your loved one's device from an iCloud backup as previously outlined.
If you've been in this situation before, was there a different way you went about trying to extract data from your loved one's device?
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