Digital Legacy Association’s response to Apple’s new digital legacy feature

Apple have announced that they will be launching a feature that enables their users to pass on information stored by them following their death. We are still to receive the full details as to how it will work, however it is a very positive development by one of the world’s largest laptop and smartphone manufacturers.

Back in 2016, the Digital Legacy Association published and put forward a set of recommendations for Apple. The publication took place following the Sue and Colin Heir Court Case brought against Apple demanding access to photos and videos saved on their son’s Apple Macbook. The recommendations published (source) included Apple asking new device owners and those with Apple accounts a question similar to the one below:

“Upon death, would you like the content saved on your Apple Macbook to be granted to loved one or business contact”?

When the user says “yes” the user would then decide what level of access their beneficiaries should receive. To complete this process the user might then need to assign the name and contact email address of the chosen account beneficiary/beneficiaries. Upon the person’s death or when the user loses capacity Apple would be able to review the person’s request and ensure that their wishes are adhered to.

James Norris, The Digital Legacy Association speaking on BBC Breakfast about the court case.

The recommendations we provided appear to align with aspects of Apple’s new Legacy Contact feature. The feature announced however only appears to operate within the cloud (Apple’s iCloud) and not at ‘a device level’ (on the device itself).

Assessment of Apple’s new digital legacy feature

The following review has been carried out with the limited information presented and published by Apple. The IOS 15 update that includes the new digital legacy feature is due to be released in September 2021. An in depth review and tutorial will be published in our for the public tutorial section once the feature has been launched.

Death Certificate needed

The first thing to be aware of is that a death certificate will be required. This indicates a good level of safeguarding and is a welcomed inclusion. It is currently unclear as to whether checks will be carried out by manually by a person or whether checks will be automated.

Only available through iCloud?

Apple’s Legacy Contact feature appears to only be available for data stored in Apple’s ‘iCloud’. Apple charge their customers for iCloud storage. The amount someone is charged each month is based on the amount of data they need. Photos and videos often are created and saved as large file sizes. Storing a lifetime’s collection of photos and videos using iCloud might not be financially and practically feasible.


Purchased media

It is unclear as to whether or not purchased media will be passed on to loved ones through Apple’s Legacy Contact. If you currently purchase a song using Apple’s iTunes you are granted a ‘individual user license’. This license expires upon your death and is non-transferable. If however, someone were to buy the same song using their Amazon account, they are be able to download and save the song locally (and therefore own a copy of it). This in turn, allows for the transferring of the song upon death to a loved one. We look forward to receiving clarity on this.

Many people use Apple devices and purchase songs from Amazon and other media sites. Whether Apple’s Legacy Contact feature will allow files that are purchased and sit outside of Apple’s ecosystem to be transferred upon death remains unknown. 


The limited screenshots provided by Apple display a logical and clear interface. It’s features and design mirrors Google’s ‘Inactive Account Manager’ (this is a similar tool used by Google users). Apple have also decided to adopt the same ‘Legacy Contact’ terminology used by Facebook (Facebook’s ‘Legacy Contact’ allows users to pass on a degree of administrative access to their Facebook account upon their death).

Using the same terminology as that used by Facebook will hopefully increase awareness levels around assigning a ‘legacy contacts’ for different platforms and devices amongst the general public.


Launching a Legacy Contact feature for iCloud users is a welcomed update. It does not however provide a way in which someone can simply ‘grant access’ to their device or the content it contains upon death. ‘Passing on Passwords’ for many people will continue to take place by Apple users and be the preferred means to ensure that someone’s digital assets are safeguarded. 

We are concerned with the cost and environmental implications of needing to store entire photo collections, videos and emails within Apple’s iCloud in order for them to be accessed upon death. We recommend that Apple (and other device manufacturers) develop features that operate at a device level. It will be easier for many of the bereaved to access photos and other digital assets on the deceased’s own device rather than needing to download it all onto their own device (and operating system). 

We view the newly announced feature as the ‘Apple iCloud Legacy Contact’ rather than a more comprehensive ‘Apple Legacy Contact’. A hybrid approach between both iCloud and devices themselves might/could/should now be considered.


We will update this post when further information is created and clarity is provided. If you work for Apple and are able to provide further information please contact us directly.

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