Your loved ones need access to your phone once you've passed away

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(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

There is one thing that's going to happen to us all, no matter how much we wish to avoid it; we're all going to die eventually. Everyone has their own set of thoughts and fears about death, but no matter what we think, our death will be very hard on the loved ones we leave behind.

This is something I'm dealing with as I write this; my father passed away earlier in the week. He was a wonderful man whom I loved very much. I was very close with my father and he was my hero in many ways. I miss you, and I love you, Dad.

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The death of a loved one is a difficult time emotionally, and nothing can change that. Many of us have experienced it firsthand, and while it will get easier as time passes, the immediate aftermath is filled with tears and a feeling of emptiness. This is made even more difficult by the sheer amount of painful arrangements that have to be made to lay someone to rest. 

Here is where I've run into issues that could have been avoided, and I want to try to make sure none of this happens to your family — I'm unable to access my father's phone and need some important information it contains. With a little bit of foresight, this didn't need to happen.

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My father used an iPhone but didn't use any other Apple products. As we plan for a memorial service and try to attend to his affairs, we have no way to access his contacts. Dad embraced the digital age in many ways, so there is no address book outside of his iPhone.

I'm working with Apple to find a way so my mother and I can try to remedy this, and they've been nothing but helpful. In any case, it's not going to be possible to get in touch with everyone who may wish to attend his memorial in time. Other, seemingly less important things will also need attention — Dad had some business dealings with someone we only know as George, who lives in Houston.

Dad wasn't trying to hide anything from my mother or the rest of the family; he just never thought about what would happen when he passed away. Most people don't. I feel like I've failed my family because I also never thought about it, and I should have; this is what I do for a living, after all.

What I can do is try to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else. Nobody needs one more thing to struggle with during a time like this. It's just one more thing to cry about.

How you can prepare for the inevitable in a digital age

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What you need to do, right now, is find someone close to you that you trust with your phone lock password.

This could be your partner or a close friend; my wife and I now keep each other's details in a password manager because we're going to die one day, too. I've also written down both our information and stored it in a safety deposit box for my children to access just in case — not on a thumb drive or stored in a cloud somewhere, but on a piece of paper that doesn't require anything but a set of eyes for access.

You could also trust this information with a lawyer. You don't need to be wealthy or have a huge estate to have a family lawyer. We all should take the time to create a will to make sorting your affairs easier on the people you leave behind, and the same lawyer you use will be able to hold this for your family. Until it's needed, it will be 100% confidential.

You should also use the tools provided by Google or Apple to help decide what happens to your data when you die. Google has a simple tool called an inactive account manager that can make this easy and you should take a few minutes to go through the process. Apple has similar tools and it's important to add a legacy contact who can access your account data.

You must realize this isn't going to give anyone access to your phone, though. An Android phone or iPhone stores the data needed to unlock it on the device itself so Google, Samsung, or Apple is unable to give you access. If you try to guess it you only have a few tries before all the data on the device is destroyed. 

beloved father

My beloved father. (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Eventually, we'll be able to access what we need through Google and Apple. Because nobody had the foresight to plan, this will require the death certificate and a court order, and it will be too late to tell Dad's fishing buddy he's passed and that we're holding a small service for him. This is heartbreaking because Dad would want his fishing buddy to know.

Nothing can give me more time with my dad, and I'd give anything to hear one more corny joke or sit and talk about working on my old truck. Time will make this easier, though. I'm making sure that I don't add one more burden on my family when it's my time, though. You should do the same.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • BerryBubbles

    So sorry for your loss....

    Informative article. My husband & I have access to each others phone & all other info. However, I had never considered 3rd party access in the event that something happened to us both.
  • mustang7757
    Sorry for your loss :(

    We do questions from time to time like this with no solutions, maybe like you tried with contacting the manufacturer to see what can be done or show proof.
  • notforhire
    Sorry for your loss, Jerry. How timely that just this morning, I accessed my late mother's contact list in her Gmail. Her best friend's husband died yesterday and I was looking for a way to reach out to her friend. Yes, this is singularly important. Blessings!
  • Jerry Hildenbrand
    mustang7757 said:
    Sorry for your loss :(

    We do questions from time to time like this with no solutions, maybe like you tried with contacting the manufacturer to see what can be done or show proof.
    Apple is helpful and willing to help, but they need a court order naming me or my mother as an authorized trustee (I forget the exact wording). Once they receive that they will allow me to reset my dad's Appleid password in the hopes I can find an automatic iCloud backup of his contacts. Google does something very similar.

    Unfortunately, I can't get this done in time for the memorial service.
  • Golfdriver97
    I recently made an 'unofficial' will to my niece. A simple text document that has some of my wishes laid out, and how to access my phone, computer, and my password manager in case something unexpected happens to me.

    I know this is NOT a legal document and so forth. But at the very least, something is better than nothing.

    The funny thing is, this all started with me nearly being in an accident. One of those complete misses, but I was like, 'Wow, if I was 5 seconds earlier leaving for work...'
  • Bla1ze
    So sorry for you and your families loss, @Jerry Hildenbrand. ❤️