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Legacy Contacts and Access to Social Media, Online Accounts, Computers & Phones.

Legacy Contacts and Access to Social Media, Online Accounts, Computers & Phones.

Sadly, recent engagements have highlighted the difficulty next of kin experience in attempting to access the accounts and devices of loved ones that have been lost through sickness, suicide, or other tragic, unanticipated events.  


We are often asked on these occasions to access devices and accounts so that valuable digital content relating to the deceased, family or business matters can be recovered and retained by the family. Unfortunately, in many cases we can’t recover the data due to issues including disk encryption and not knowing user credentials.  Mobile phones similarly can’t be accessed without the PIN (in most cases).

The reason behind the need for such access can be as varied as parents wanting to access their child’s internet browsing and search history to try and understand why they took their life, through to simply wanting to collate and preserve all their child’s online content. Furthermore, it may be necessary to arrange for the cancellation of ongoing subscriptions and services.

Some social media platforms have implemented the ability to nominate a legacy contact who can have access to the account or request that that the account is deactivated. While Apple and Facebook allow the legacy contact to download content from the account, other platforms only allow the legacy contact to make a request to deactivate the account. Others don’t provide any legacy feature and require an authorized person to request deactivation of the account.

Kids and young adults value their privacy and won’t want to provide passwords for their accounts and devices to their parents so that’s not going to be an option.

Facebook & Instagram

Facebook & Instagram have an option called ‘Memorialization settings’ where a ‘legacy contact’ can be configured who can access the designated Facebook profile and perform the following actions;

  • Write a pinned post;

  • View profile posts;

  • Deleted tribute posts;

  • Remove tagged items;

  • Update profile/cover photos

  • Request the removal of the Facebook account; and

  • Download an export of the Facebook account (If enabled)

The limitation with this setting is that the legacy contact can’t log into the account, read messages or remove/add new friends.

Apple Account (Apple ID)

Apple ID users can setup a legacy contact that allows a trusted user to access data such as photos, messages, notes, files, device backups and more.

Setting up the legacy contact sends the nominated contact an access key QR code. In the event of the account holders death the legacy contact has to send the access key and a copy of the death certificate to Apple for verification before any access/data can be granted.  


Once access is granted they will receive a separate/unique Apple ID that can be used to access the account and any activation lock is removed from devices tied to the original Apple ID. (The original Apple ID and password will no longer work)

Other Accounts

Many other social media accounts don’t have specific settings to setup a next of kin or legacy contact which will allow access to digital content. These platforms will only allow the deactivation of an account on the request of an authorized person on behalf of the estate or a verified immediate family member.





Google Account

Google has a facility where requests can be submitted regarding a deceased user’s account and recommend that users configure the inactive account manager options in the account.  This allows a user to configure their account to notify and share pre-selected data to a nominated contact if their Google account is inactive for a select period. (Either 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, or 18 months).   During setup, multiple data sources can be chosen that the nominated contact can access when the account is deemed inactive. Data such as Google Drive, Calendar, Activity Log, Mail, Contacts, location history, etc. 

You can also configure your account for deletion after a set period of inactivity in the “inactive account manager” options:

If the inactive account manager options haven’t been configured, immediate family or legal representatives can request closure of the account and content from the account:


Microsoft Account (Hotmail/Outlook)

By default, Microsoft accounts will automatically be closed after two years of inactivity.
Microsoft does not have any settings to allow a user to configure a next of kin, instead they have a Next of Kin process (like the Google Support request).   The Next of Kin process allows the release of Hotmail contents, including all emails and attachments, and address book to the next of kin.  The limitation is that access to the account is unable to be granted, the password to the account can not be reset or the account recovered.

An authentication process is required to prove the legal next of kin, like the Google support process, this requires the death certificate, and relevant documents as proof of kinship or executor status.

What’s the solution?

The easiest and most sensible solution we can think of is the use of a password manager application such as 1Password, LastPass etc.,  as most of them have a feature that allows the user to create a trusted contact who can access all passwords in the event they pass away.

LastPass calls this feature ‘Emergency Access’ and permits the creation of a designated emergency contact who can access the deceased’s account.  There is a waiting period involved, which is configured when the contact is setup,  but once this has lapsed, the designated contact has full access to the account.

Other Password managers that have an emergency/legacy contact option include

  • Keeper

  • Dashlane

  • 1Password, and

  • NordPass

1Password state they are working on an “Estate Planning” feature which they hope to release to the market soon.  You can check out their development plan here: A vision of the future with 1Password

Setting up a password manager and emergency contact can allow all online accounts and devices to be accessible in the event of death. This allows the nominated contact to have full access and control over the online accounts instead of navigating support processes to deactivate or gain limited data/access. Doing this now will ultimately help bereaved family members in the preservation of vital data, be it personal or business.


David Caldwell


Forensic IT


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