How to access iPhone content when someone passes away

If someone you know has recently passed away, here's how you might be able to access content from their iPhone if you need to.

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 contains 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.

iCloud

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.

Your techniques?

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?