Death and Passwords: Make a Plan Before You’re Gone

| News

When we die whatever is tucked away in our brains goes with us, including passwords for our online accounts. One woman learned that the hard way after her husband passed away and she tried to get the password from Apple for his Apple ID. The big lesson here: plan ahead so there's a way for trusted people to get at your important passwords when you're gone.

Apple doesn't make it easy to get passwords for deceased family membersApple doesn't make it easy to recover passwords for deceased family members

Following the death of her husband, Peggy Bush followed the process through Canada's government to redirect pension payments and other benefits to her name, but then hit a brick wall when she realized his Apple ID password was required to reinstall apps on her iPad.

She learned quickly that Apple doesn't simply hand over account passwords, but then had to deal with more frustration when she had to deal with conflicting instructions from the company on how to recover her husband's password. Ultimately, she was told a court order was needed, according to CBC News, but Apple has since said it's working with her to take care of the password issue without jumping into the legal system.

Her frustration is understandable, but it's also good to know Apple isn't going to just give up anyone's password. That means using social engineering tactics to coax a password out of an unsuspecting support team member simply isn't going to happen.

That frustration, however, could've been completely avoided had Mrs. Bush's husband thought to give her the account passwords she needed to handle his affairs—and in this case, her iPad video game purchases. Had he done that, there would've been a little less stress in what's been a horribly painful time for Mrs. Bush and the rest of his family.

The moral for the rest of us is that it's a pretty safe bet someone needs access to our passwords after we're gone, so make a plan you're comfortable with before it's too late. It'll be easier and less stressful on everyone you leave behind.

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Historically speaking, death is almost always a one way path. Making sure someone you trust can get at the passwords for your online accounts after you're gone makes it a lot easier to wrap up your affairs.

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Brad Shuler

After my father died I received his iPad 2.  Of course his iCloud password didn’t work.  At my Apple Store appointment the Genius would still not reset my iPad even with a death certificate.  I asked for supervisor.  She walked over and touched my death certificate (without looking at it) and said ” he has a death certificate.  Take care of it”.

I find it amusing that someone posted about some using a fake death certificate to get an Apple Genius to restore an iOS device.  My guess is 99.8% of the people who steal iOS devices would never think of this.  Good luck to them.. it is a judge’s discretion, but if a death certificate is used in a crime, it can be judged a felony.  Of course anyone who would try this is a moron.

Lee Dronick

Keep a hardcopy of important passwords in the place where you keep your birth certificate and such.


My plan is foolproof! I’m not going to die!


Suppose Hubby did NOT want her or anybody to EVER see the contents of his Mac?


My wife and I use 1Password, in part to sort this out—a personal locker for each of us, plus a shared locker for… shared stuff. We keep each other’s master passwords as a contingency for these sorts of things. Granted, we DO also trust each other not to abuse that…

Passwords aren’t the only part of the effort you should make. What about your hardware? Your subscriptions? Your auto-payments? All reachable if you have the passwords, but it’s also extremely helpful if you make a (protected) list of the important places where those passwords go.  See the resources from Allison Sheridan ( about her own efforts and findings whilst dealing with the equipment left behind by a fellow podcaster.


What if your iCloud accounts are linked via Family Sharing? Would that solve the problem? Assuming both husband and wife are listed as admins.

I keep trying to get my wife to memorize my master password but she still hasn’t. Maybe the idea of splitting up shared vaults could work, I haven’t thought of that. Or I guess she can just put my master password in her password vault. But then her weaker password is the weak link to getting at all of my passwords.


Another approach may be to simply have such info and passwords on a printed sheet, stashed in a secure space. (I’m assuming that’s prime in Jeff’s mind to begin with.)  With the increasing amount of hackery going on out there, the chances that your home will be physically burgled may be lower than if your computer is electronically burgled. No files to protect or encrypt - just a sheet of paper.
Just make sure you delete any such open list from your computer after you print it out!  And don’t leave the sheet out on your desk.

Scott B in DC

All my passwords are in 1Password. My wife has a copy of the master password and there are hardcopies in places only a few designated people know about along with instructions on how to access my 1Password vault. When I change the 1Password master password, she gets a copy and I update the hardcopies. Anything that is password protected that is not in 1Password will not be accessible after I die because that is what I want.


The problem with printing and stashing passwords is that we’re forced to change them, and invariably the printed list will be out-of-date.

Scott’s suggestion of providing the 1Password master password seems to be the best solution I’ve heard so far. It might change, but infrequently. And there’s only one so keeping it up to date with your SO shouldn’t be that hard.


CudaBoy: in that scenario I’m not sure that she really is his wife. Perhaps there’s a legal document but that’s not how marriage is supposed to be.

However, to your point, that’s what FileVault is for. Or encrypted disk images if you’re concerned about less than the whole machine.

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