With so many people facing the sudden and untimely passing of loved ones, particularly parents and significant others and spouses, it may add insult to injury that their digital lives are severed as well as their physical ones.
Since this is a Mac 911 column, I won’t dig into the details across services outside of what Apple provides. When we purchase apps, media, and other digital items and digital subscriptions from Apple, we are paying for a license that has a variety of terms attached. It’s a purchase in the loosest terms, not a permanent transfer of ownership as when you buy a physical good, like a book or puzzle.
Apple has long blurred the distinction on this by typically offering expansive licensing, especially compared to other tech companies. Way back in 2003, when I interviewed Apple’s worldwide vice president of marketing Phil Schiller about the opening of the iTunes Store, I asked him almost immediately that if it was a “store” did that mean rights were transferrable. He said, “You bought it. You own it. You don’t have to pay us again for the right to license it.” But the rights can’t be sold or transferred to someone else. This remains true, encoded in legalese, to this day.
Read Apple’s terms of service for iCloud, which governs your Apple ID account and purchases, and Apple says this:
D. No Right of Survivorship
Unless otherwise required by law, 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. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at https://support.apple.com/icloud for further assistance.
It’s pretty clear how Apple envisions this. The company doesn’t appear to be trawling records to obtain death certificates. Rather, it makes it straightforward as to what the rights are and that if it receives a death certificate—such as if someone associated is trying actively to close out an account and shut down subscriptions—the account and data can immediately be removed. (Please note this doesn’t constitute legal advice, and you may have rights that conflict with Apple’s statement of its terms above in particular U.S. states or countries.)
Until Apple is aware of the passing, which may be never, as long as you have an Apple ID password, access to devices, and other information, you may be able to continue to use apps, music, and other purchases, as well as continue to sync data with iCloud. But given that it could stop at any time, I recommend making sure you have good backups. For iOS and iPadOS apps that don’t sync and have data stored internally, see if you can export it or transfer it to another account or device.
It’s always a good time to talk about financial, medical, and digital records with loved ones if you haven’t made a plan, especially regarding access to passwords after someone dies.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Susanna.
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