Apple’s Legacy Contacts

from space video distribution to Mac computers

Since my last newsletter, my uncle, Kenneth Jones, passed away. I’m the executor for his estate. He was somewhat technophobic, so there isn’t a whole lot to do with his digital assets ­– I knew his passwords and he didn’t – but for most of us there are more things that need thinking about before our final login. Creating a Legacy Contact associated with your Apple ID is an Apple-specific thing that can help protect the data you store in the cloud that you don’t want to disappear when you do.

More and more, the Apple experience is wrapped around your Apple ID. Typically, each Apple device has a local passcode (for an iPhone or iPad) or a local account with Username and Password (for a Mac). Your account on that device will also be associated with your Apple ID for access to Apple’s cloud services that you use: the App Store, the Apple Store, Apple Music, Apple TV, and any iCloud services (Mail, Messages, FaceTime, Contacts, Calendar, Photos, iCloud Drive, Notes, Find My, etc.). In regular use, the Apple ID is tied to your local login so that unlocking your device (with passcode, with username/password, with Face ID, with Touch ID, or through your Apple Watch) will also provide access to Apple ID services. If you’ve allowed it, you can sometimes go in the other direction and use your Apple ID credentials to reset the local password on your Mac.

Until recently, if you wanted someone to have access to your iCloud content after you die, you had to leave them access to your Apple ID and password, as well as access to your local account on a device. There are some good reasons you may not want them to have that info available while you are still alive, though, not least just that it makes it more likely to fall into the wrong hands. Legacy Contacts provides a new option.

When you add someone as a Legacy Contact, they will receive a unique access key. If they are in the Apple ecosystem, this will be associated with their Apple ID. For non-Apple folks, they will need to print out a QR code and store it (physically or digitally) somewhere they’ll be able to find it if needed. To access your data, they will need a copy of your death certificate and the access key.

Here’s the info they’d be able to access pulled from Apple’s website:

  • 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 Backup, which may include downloaded App Store apps; photos and videos stored on device; device settings and other content backed up in iCloud not excluded below

And here’s what Legacy Contacts can’t access:

  • Licensed media, for example, movies, music, and books that the account holder 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 info or cards saved to use with Apple Pay
  • Information stored in the account holder’sKeychain, for example, Safari user names and passwords, internet accounts (used in Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Messages), credit card numbers and expiration dates, and Wi-Fi passwords

tl;dr – Setting up the same people who are in your will as executor/personal representative as Legacy Contacts makes sense. It could save your photos and important documents from oblivion, and it’s all safely private until after you are dead. Here’s how to set up an Apple Legacy Contact.

In my case, I just added my sister as my legacy contact. My wife, who’s the primary contact on my will, has access to my passwords for my Apple ID and my devices, so she wouldn’t need Legacy Contact access. But if we were both to pass away, my sister would be the stuckee for sorting things out, and this would be a helpful tool.

Bonus topic: You may also want to consider adding the same person/people as an Account Recovery Contact. Account Recovery lets someone help you restore access to your Apple ID if you lose your devices and can’t successfully authenticate to your account.

Setting a Legacy Contact doesn’t cover all the bases needed for end-of-life digital planning, it’s just a simple first step. I’ll try to hit on some others (passwords, backups, subscriptions, etc.) in future newsletters.

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