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What information can Apple Legacy Contacts access?

Legacy Contacts Setup Hero
Legacy Contacts Setup Hero (Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)

With iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, Apple debuted a new program for passing on information to loved ones once you're no longer around. While facing up to our own mortality is a bleak prospect, there's an awful lot of important stuff on our devices these days that our friends and family may need after we're gone.

With its Digital Legacy program, Apple lets you select trusted people with whom to share information in the event of your death.

Data that Legacy Contacts can access

After the account owner's death, the chosen Legacy Contacts will be able to access data like photos, notes, and iCloud mail. Here's the full list of accessible data:

  • iCloud Photos
  • Notes
  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Reminders
  • Messages in iCloud
  • Call history
  • Files stored in iCloud Drive
  • Health data
  • Voice memos
  • Safari bookmarks and reading list
  • iCloud backups

The above data from the deceased person's account can be viewed on iCloud.com and downloaded to the Legacy Contact's device. Additionally, an iCloud backup can be restored onto an iOS or iPadOS device, and data is also accessible on a Mac.

It's important to reiterate that the above information is only available in the event of the original account holder's death and after Apple has approved a request through its Digital Legacy portal. The data is not automatically available to all Legacy Contacts in real-time while the original account holder is alive.

Data that Legacy Contacts cannot access

Apple's Digital Legacy program doesn't cover everything and there are some exclusions you may want to consider. Apple explicitly states that iCloud Keychain, payment information, subscriptions, and licensed media will not be accessible to Legacy Contacts. Here's the complete list, according to Apple:

  • Licensed media; for example, films, music, and books that the account holder has purchased
  • In-app purchases; for example, upgrades, subscriptions, game currency, or other content that was bought inside an app
  • Payment information; for example Apple ID payment information or cards that have been saved for use with Apple Pay
  • Information stored in the account holder's Keychain; for example, Safari usernames and passwords, internet accounts (used in Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Messages), credit card numbers and expiry dates, and Wi-Fi passwords

Apple notes that if you have more than one Legacy Contact set up, any one of them can make decisions about your account data after your death including permanently deleting it. Therefore, it's worth considering with great care who you add as a Legacy Contact.

Will my data be available to Legacy Contacts forever?

No. A period of three years begins once Apple approves a Legacy Contact request wherein a Legacy Contact Apple ID will allow a Legacy Contact access to the original account holder's information.

After this period ends, the Legacy Contact Apple ID will no longer work and the deceased individual's data and account will be permanently deleted. Note that the three-year time frame begins when the first legacy account request is approved.

Get your digital affairs in order

Now that you've learned what data and information can be handed down to your loved ones, you can make a more informed decision about opting into Apple's Digital Legacy feature. It's not a perfect system but it's the best iPhone data-sharing system we've seen yet and could help to reduce frustration at what is already a very difficult time for surviving family members and friends.

If you decided to make use of it, you can add Legacy Contacts on iPhone or set up Legacy contacts on Mac if you prefer.

Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.