Losing a loved one is never easy, but the paperwork and executive duties that come after can feel impossible. Completing these mundane tasks to gain access to devices, accounts, and so on is time-consuming but necessary. Not only do they protect your loved one’s digital legacy, but they also help you manage their final estate.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Understanding Computer Security
- Ways to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Microsoft or Windows Computer
- Ways to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Mac or Apple Computer
If you’ve been tasked with accessing a deceased person’s computer or laptop per your executor duties, don’t fret. There are a lot of options for gaining entry into their accounts. However, these aren’t always straightforward. Much of the process will depend on your loved one’s digital security, tools, and more factors.
In this guide, we’ll share the top ways to access a deceased person’s computer or laptop. Depending on your budget and tech skill, there are different options to fit your needs.
Understanding Computer Security
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize what you’re trying to do on your loved one’s computer or laptop. Though your intentions are pure, you’re essentially breaking into your deceased loved one’s device.
There are a lot of moral questions about whether it’s appropriate to access someone else’s computer data when they pass. Think about whether you would want your own computer accessed by friends and family. Perhaps you would, and perhaps you would want these files to remain private. That’s a question you’ll need to ask yourself.
Ultimately, the goal of computer security is to prevent a break-in, whether this is done as part of one’s executor duties or by a hacker. Most modern devices are created to prevent this from happening, so there are many barriers you’ll need to overcome depending on your loved one’s security preferences.
If you’re simply hoping to gain access to someone’s accounts, profiles, and so on, it might be easier to simply contact these providers. Going through someone’s device is much more complicated, and it could also be seen as an invasion of privacy.
Ways to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Microsoft or Windows Computer
Microsoft accounts are created with security in mind. If you don’t know your loved one’s password to their device, this could be tricky. Having a good understanding of computer basics, backups, and cybersecurity will help you through this process.
1. Backup the device
Not only is there a way to access the device by making a backup, but you should also create a backup regardless. Backing up your loved one’s computer or laptop is the best way to avoid any issues once you start trying to access their device.
To do this, you’ll need to make a backup image of the computer’s hard disk that you can save somewhere else. If you’re unable to access the computer any other way, you can use the backup image on another machine to access the contents of the drive.
2. Use their Microsoft account
Many PC computers use a Microsoft account to log in. If you can access this account online or through a password manager, this should give you access to the computer.
If the account has two-factor authorization turned on, you might need to use another device or email to unlock the account. You might have luck reaching out to Microsoft to unlock the account if you can prove your role as executor.
3. Remove the drive
Though more complicated, if you have some tech skills, you can also physically remove the drive. By attaching it to another system through an external USB enclosure, you can explore the contents of the drive.
If the drive has been encrypted, this will be more complicated. You’ll need access to the encrypted data, typically using a password.
4. Reset the admin password
If your loved one is using an older version of Windows (pre-Windows 10), you might be able to reset the admin password. This is a feature used if you lose your administrator account password, but it’s not available on more recent versions of Windows.
This is not a simple process, and you’ll want to be familiar with Linux to reset the computer’s admin password. Ask Leo has a detailed instruction page explaining how to do this.
5. Use a forensic specialist
Last but not least, your only choice might be to use a professional. Hiring a professional data recovery service is expensive, but these individuals are the ones training to do all of the above to access any information you might need.
Talking to a specialist can also help you understand how encrypted (if at all) your loved one’s computer is. If it’s highly encrypted, there might not be anything you can do to recover their computer.
Ways to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Mac or Apple Computer
Apple makes it a bit easier to access your loved one’s Mac or Apple device. You’ll need a bit of personal information to get started, so follow the methods below.
6. Log in with their Apple ID
To access your loved one’s device, you’ll need their Apple ID. If you have access to this through a password manager or other documentation, you should easily be able to log in to his or her computer.
Alternatively, if you have access to their email, photo, etc, you can likely reset their Apple ID account by going to “forgot my password” and following the steps. This might be the easiest option. If you don’t have access to any of this information, move on to the next step.
7. Request access to their Apple account
Apple has a process for requesting access to a deceased loved one’s Apple accounts. This gives you access to their iCloud, devices, and more. However, this is not a simple process. Apple needs the next-of-kin to obtain a court order naming them the rightful inheritor of this personal information.
If this fit’s your situation, Apple requests the following in the court order:
- The Apple ID of the deceased (usually an email address)
- The deceased person’s name
- Name of the next-of-kin
- That the requestor is the decedent’s legal agent or is authorized to make this request
- That Apple is ordered by the court to assist in giving access to this account
It’s key to recognize that this court order needs to prove the requestor is authorized with “lawful consent.” This means the deceased made it clear that this next-of-kin is to gain access to digital accounts such as this.
When the court order is received, Apple will work with you to reset the password, grant information, and so on. From here, you can log in to his or her device, delete their Apple ID, and more.
Preventing Security Problems
This guide above is an important reminder about the importance of our digital legacies. Your digital legacy is everything virtual that you leave behind when you die. Social accounts, photos, documents, and more are all part of your digital legacy. While we don’t always think of these things, they’re an important part of the story we have to tell.
When you die, what do you want to happen to your devices and accounts? If you’d like them to be shared with your friends and family, you’ll need to take preventative action.
You can start by sharing your account access with those you trust. You could write this down physically, use a password manager, or create a free Cake account to further explore your digital legacy. By considering your long-term security goals before it’s too late, you avoid your family jumping through any of the hoops above.
Access Someone’s Devices After Death
If you’re an executor for a loved one who has secure, locked devices, it can be tricky to gain access. Whether they have a PC or a Mac computer, you’ll need to go through many technical steps to log in to their device. Whether you use a professional or DIY the solution, it’s important to consider what the deceased would have wanted.
Your computer is a part of your digital legacy. How do you want your own devices to be handled when you’re no longer here? Now is the time to answer these questions for yourself and your loved ones.
- “How to request access to a deceased family member’s Apple accounts.” Apple Support. Apple.com.