What Happens to Content Purchased from Apple When You Die?

03/07/2014

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You use your Apple ID for a lot of different things. It’s your email account, if you use iCloud email; it’s your iMessages connection (though you can also use your phone number); and it’s especially the key to any content you’ve bought from Apple. You use it to buy from the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, and the iBookstore.

But what happens to all that content when you die? Since your Apple ID is the key to all of this, if you haven’t given someone the password, then it becomes orphaned. In fact, according to Apple’s terms and conditions:

You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.

This means that, not only do your next of kin not get access to purchases you’ve made from Apple, but also to your email, photos and documents, as long as they’re protected by an Apple ID.

The UK newspaper The Telegraph reports today that “Apple [...] refused to unlock iPad belonging to cancer victim’s son ‘without written permission’ of his late mother”. In this particular case, the son didn’t even want to access his mother’s content, but simply be able to use her iPad. Since Apple’s Activation Lock security prevents you from resetting an iOS device without the Apple ID and password of the current owner, there was no way this person could use the iPad as his own.

Apple does say that “Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted,” and, in this case, it finally deleted the account. But it seems like a very big hassle to go through, and one you might want to avoid.

For this reason, I strongly recommend that you leave your Apple ID password in a safe place for your next of kin, just in case. It could be written down and stored in a safe deposit box, or it could be stored in a password manager, if you have one, as long as your spouse, partner or children know the password to access that app.

I’ve written about The Problem with Apple IDs for Macworld, and this was one of the issues I raised.

Another point to make is that Apple’s terms and conditions make it clear that you do not own any content you purchase from the company, but are only granted access until your death. That’s a much more complicated issue that may, one day, have to be dealt with by the courts.

In any case, make sure you have a spare set of keys – your Apple ID password – in a safe place. Just in case.