How to recover photos from a deceased loved one's Android phone

Death is hard to cope with. Wakes and funerals bring a flood of memories — good and bad. Naturally, you may want to look back on photos of those old memories in order to bring yourself some closure. In the old days, you may have had a photo book to look through (and you may have one today), but in the digital age that's increasingly rare.

All is not lost, though. Depending on how your loved one had their phone and online accounts set up, you may be able to get the photos back.

Pull the SD card from their cell phone

While internal storage has increased in recent years, Samsung — which sells the majority of Android handsets — LG and other manufacturers still include a microSD card slot in their phones. There's a good chance your loved one was using the SD card to store photos. In that case, take the card out, plug it into your computer, and see if the photos are there. If not, read on.

Sign into their Google account

Your loved one may have left their account information in their will. Or you know their email address and can guess their password. In either case, you can use that information to then sign into their Google Photos library and download their photos.

Did they forget to backup their pictures to Google Photos? First, tell everyone else to start backing up their pictures, then read on.

Request the data from a deceased user's account

Google lets third parties request the content from a deceased user's account, but this must be requested by the deceased person's legal representative. The legal representative must upload a copy of their government-issued ID and a copy of the death certificate. Even then, there's no guarantee the legal representative will gain access.

If this works, the legal representative would be able to access data from the deceased user's Drive, Gmail, Blogger, Google+, Google Photos, YouTube and other services. But again, if the deceased user didn't back up any photos in the first place, getting into the cloud backup won't do any good.

Other options

Unfortunately, there aren't many other ways to get into someone's phone to get their photos. While that's going to sting, any method that would be used to get into a deceased person's phone by someone they loved could also be used by an attacker to get into your phone. It hurts, but that's the reality of the world we live in.

If you can't recover the photos of your loved one, sit around with your friends and family, crack open some brews and reminisce. And tell everyone to start backing their photos up to the cloud.

Tom Westrick
  • Wow
  • I am not sure I want my loved ones to have access to my Photos or Drive. I'm more comfortable with them having access to my Facebook, forums, blogs, that sorta thing. Then again, I'm probably the only one in my family who uploads everything, photos, grandma's recipes, etc.
  • If you want to give you friends and/or relatives access to all or a subset of your data if you die, there's also Google's "Inactive Account Manager".
  • Came here to say just that. It is absurd this was not covered.
  • Agree. That was my first thought.
  • Thank You for this info. Just set mine up. Man, I'll tell ya that AC ain't what it used to be. More like AD Central!
  • Thank you! I didn't even know this existed!
  • Awesome information to have. I forgot that existed. Took me five minutes to set up. Great tip!
  • And stumble upon Grandpa's gay S&M photo collection. No thanks.
  • Definitely something to think about. I'm probably the only person in my family who religiously backs up all the family photos to cloud storage. I use OneDrive primarily but also use Google Drive/Photos because I'm a bit OCD and have an unhealthy fear that one of them could lose all my data one day so best to have a backup of the backup.
  • "Or you know their email address and can guess their password" - assuming they don't have 2factor.
  • And this one is a little macabre, and I don't know the legality, but.... ask the coroner to unlock their phone using the person's thumb if they have a fingerprint scanner. I know that's creepy, but still might be important. And of course, you'll have to make sure you can get it to stay unlocked after that, since it's obviously a limited time access. Okay, sorry, I'll stop now...
  • No way, I always keep a backup for my family members. Can u state in what dire situations will a person ever need that??
  • A video recovery software may help though