iOS 15.2: How to assign a legacy contact to allow data recovery on your account

With iCloud increasingly storing vital information, a useful new iOS 15.2 feature allows you to recover an account from a deceased friend or family member to preserve their digital heritage.

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Photo: Apple

At WWDC 2021, Apple unveiled several new iCloud features, among them iCloud Legacy Contacts. iCloud contains a lot of important information, from passwords to contacts to app data and files. All of this data may be important after your death, and as a result, Apple has added the ability to designate someone to access your data after your death. This includes important information such as passwords, photos, files, and more.

Using this feature means that your data will not be lost after your death and can be passed on to a friend or family member. If this is not set up and no one has access to your account, the data cannot be accessed and will eventually be deleted after Apple’s retention policy on an unpaid iCloud account lapses.

This feature allows you to share your personal data stored in iCloud (and device backups) with loved ones after your death more securely than just sharing passwords with your online accounts. Apple also controls the flow to ensure that your account data is shared only if you pass and only the contacts you select.

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How to set an old contact in iOS 15.2

Once you’re ready to add an old contact to your iCloud account, iOS 15.2 makes this process super simple, so be sure to upgrade your device to this version if you want to add an old contact. Then, to add an old contact, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select your name at the top of the screen.
  3. Click Password & Security | old contact (Figure A).
  4. Click Add Old Contact to start the process and follow the instructions (Figure B).

Figure A

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iOS 15 will walk you through the process of assigning an old contact to recover your files and digital items after you’ve passed.

Cory Bohon / TechRepublic

By default, this shows your family members sharing your Apple ID; However, you can select someone other than the people who are enabled in Family Sharing. You can currently select only one old contact.

Figure B

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iOS 15.2 will walk you through the process of assigning legacy digital contacts and explain each step along the way.

Cory Bohon / TechRepublic

After selecting the person you wish to assign as the old contact, proceed with the process, then agree by clicking Continue when the data to be shared with the user is shown.

Eventually, you’ll be allowed to send a message to your old contact with your access key, or print a copy instead. This access key will be needed to recover your data after you have passed (and can only be used after you have passed).

If you are using a corporate iCloud account, the Digital Legacy feature may not be available. However, if you are using your personal iCloud account on a company-designated device, it may be available. But if the device is managed by the IT department, the feature may be disabled. If you cannot activate the Legacy Contact feature in iOS 15.2 on your iPhone or iPad, it can also be enabled using your Mac by visiting System Preferences | Apple ID | Password and security.

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How to recover your data from an old contact

In the event of your death, the old contact needs some important information in order to access your data:

  • Death certificate.
  • The access key assigned by the iCloud user to the account they wish to recover.
  • Date of birth of the deceased user.

Once all this information is collected, the person who recovers the account can go to a new website created by Apple called digital-legacy.apple.com. Here, you can request access by submitting the access key and related information requested by Apple. You can also view the status of your application from this page.

This process is completely safe and Apple notes that unless all of these items are collected, your account cannot be recovered. Someone with only an access key or a death certificate cannot open an account on their own. This is great from a privacy and security perspective to ensure that only the contacts you have selected have access to your data.

For more information about Apple’s Digital Legacy Program, visit this Apple Support article.

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