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How Powerful is Apple's Legacy Contact?

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Our phones store some of our most meaningful moments and interactions. From photos to text messages and notes, we inadvertently document our lives on our devices. This is why Apple came out with a Legacy Contact option a few years ago: an individual that can request access to a user’s iCloud account upon their passing. While this is a good stride towards proper digital account planning, Apple Legacy Contacts are unfortunately very limited in what they can recover, especially given that ⅓ Apple users don’t have an iCloud account to begin with! Here we will review the specifications of iPhone planning and explain how you can ensure your client’s are properly covered.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is a cloud storage system developed by Apple that enables its users to share some data between devices. For example, if you lose your iPhone, you will be able to recover some of your data if you sign in to iCloud on our next iPhone.

What does iCloud store?

iCloud will store some photos, some messages, Apple Mail email, and documents held in the iCloud drive. iCloud can also optionally be enabled for other apps, some of which will be available to legacy contacts. These include notes, calendar, reminders, and contacts, though this needs to be done manually. iCloud allots 5GB of free storage to all users, after which users need to pay a recurring subscription for additional space.

What is a Legacy Contact?

A Legacy Contact is a designation that can include 1-5 contacts who will have access to some iCloud data upon making a request to iCloud. This data covers the apps mentioned in the last section. However, if we take a closer look at what will actually be made available to legacy contacts, problems start to arise.

Why Apple Legacy Contacts Don’t Work.

Let’s look at some numbers and see what is actually recoverable by a Legacy Contact.
  • 33% of users without iCloud cannot have a legacy contact and everything will be lost.
  • 89% of iCloud users do not pay for storage beyond the free 5GB.
  • iPhone photo sizes vary quite a bit, but a low average would place them around 3 MB per photo.
  • Videos are much larger than this: a 30-second video will be around 55MB.
  • For someone with 5 minutes of video and 3MB photos, 5GB of storage will cover about 1,150 photos.
  • The average smartphone user has 2,100 photos.
  • This means the average Legacy Contact will only be able to access 54% of the decedent’s photos, and nothing else will be stored as the 5GB has been used up. Apple’s Legacy Contact will not allow for a meaningful recovery of important data, even in the best case scenario.


    Apple’s Legacy Contact is not very powerful. Unfortunately, planning for digital accounts is not straightforward as legacy planning is not a primary business concern of major account custodians.
    Bequest allows users to easily and securely connect their important accounts (email, photo, etc.), set privacy-protecting filters on the data, and designate non-probate beneficiaries. We will cover the downsides of trying to retrieve data using a phone password in a few weeks!

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