How to set up Apple’s Digital Legacy feature on iOS

Make sure your loved ones can access your digital life when you die.

Text messages; family photos; passwords — all of these are key pieces of digital data that you might want to hand over after you pass away. Instead of sharing your password or permanently locking the contents of your phone when you die, you can use a feature called Digital Legacy on your Apple devices that posthumously relays information to someone you trust.

Though Facebook and Google have had similar services up and running for a while now, Apple is catching up, and if you can get past the initial morbidity of planning for your untimely death, it only takes a few minutes to set up Digital Legacy right now.

What exactly is Digital Legacy?

Digital Legacy is a tool that allows you to give up to five contacts special access keys that they can use to access the data on your device if you pass away suddenly.

Your chosen Legacy Contacts will be able to access the following:

  • 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

None of this information is automatically available to them. They cannot access it without sending a request to Apple and having a copy of your death certificate, meaning no one, as long as you’re alive, will be able to snoop around if you add them as a Legacy Contact.

If a request is approved, your Legacy Contact will be able to view the data listed above on Apple’s Digital Legacy website and have an opportunity to download it.

Once you set a Legacy Contact, that contact is active and your data will be accessible for three years before it’s completely deleted, which isn’t exactly a perfect system for preparing for an emergency, so we recommend setting an annual calendar alert to make sure your Digital Legacy information is accurate.

How to set a Legacy Contact

While picking a Legacy Contact is serious business and sounds daunting, setting it up is simple once you know where to look. Before you jump in, make sure you’ve updated your phone to iOS 15.2 (if you haven’t completed the update, you won’t see the Digital Legacy options).

You can find your Digital Legacy menu in your Apple ID settings under “Password & Security.”
  • On your iPhone, open your “Settings” app. If you don’t know where this is, you can swipe left until you hit the App Library and search for it.
  • In “Settings,” tap on your Apple ID profile at the top of the menu.
  • Tap on “Password and Security.”
  • Toward the bottom of this menu, tap on “Legacy Contact.”
When you pick a Legacy Contact, they’ll be sent a digital access key. This key will be required to access your account.
  • The following screen is the main Digital Legacy menu. This is where your Legacy Contacts will be listed once you’ve set them up. To set up a contact, tap “Add Legacy Contact.”
  • If you use Family Sharing, Apple will bring up those contacts assuming you’ll want to appoint a family member as a Legacy Contact. If you’d like to do that, just tap on the name of the person you’d like to choose. If you want to add anyone else, tap “Choose Someone Else” and you’ll be taken to your contacts list.
You can send an access key to your new Legacy Contact in a message or print a physical copy.
  • Next, you’ll be asked to choose how you’d like to inform your Legacy Contact and share their access key. You can send them a direct message or generate a PDF of the access key that you can email or print.
  • Once you’ve sent off the access key or saved it, Apple will confirm the addition and take you back to the Legacy Contact menu.

Managing Legacy Contacts on a Mac

You can also set and manage Legacy contacts from a Mac desktop or MacBook Pro:

  • Click on the Apple logo in the top left-hand corner of your screen.
  • Click “System Preferences.”
  • On the top of the pop-up menu, you’ll want to click on the “Apple ID” button to the right of your name.
  • Click “Password & Security” in the left-hand sidebar.
  • Click “Legacy Contact.” Your choices here will look similar to those listed above. Simply click through the same steps.

How to remove Legacy Contacts

Whether you need to alter your Legacy Contacts because someone on your list is no longer in your life or you decided your buddy probably isn’t responsible enough to handle the sensitive info, removing a Legacy Contact is even easier than setting one up.

  • On your iPhone, open your “Settings” app.
  • In “Settings,” tap on your Apple ID profile at the top of the menu.
  • Tap on “Password and Security.”
  • Toward the bottom of this menu, tap on “Legacy Contact.”
  • From your list of Legacy Contacts, tap on the one you’d like to remove. A new page will open, showing you their phone number and email address. Simply tap on “Remove Contact” at the bottom of this list.
  • Apple will confirm that you’d like to remove this Legacy Contact. Tap through the next page and they will be removed. You will not see their name listed any longer and their access key will not work.
  • If you decide to add this contact again, having removed them doesn’t get in the way. Simply set them up as a Legacy Contact again using the steps above.

Where can Legacy Contacts find their access key?

There are a few ways someone can find their access key depending on how you shared it with them initially.

  • If you sent the access key to them as a PDF, make sure they save it somewhere safe, whether they save the digital PDF or print a physical copy.
  • They can find the access key in their own Legacy Contact menu in their Apple ID settings.
  • You can also view access keys for all of your legacy contacts. If someone needs it shared with them again, go to your list of Legacy Contacts, tap on their profile and select “View Access Key” to see a QR code and string of numbers that you can share with them.

How to access a deceased individual’s data if you are a Legacy Contact

Apple has a specific site for Legacy Contacts to request access to someone’s data.

To request access to an account, visit this Apple page and have your access key in hand. You may be asked some additional personal questions about the contact (you’ll need their date of birth) and you’ll be asked to enter the access key, either by entering the code manually or scanning the QR code with two mobile devices.