Apple Makes It Near Impossible to Unlock a Deceased Relative’s iPad

The Globe reshines a light on an annoying Apple policy.



What happens when a loved one passes away and leaves you everything … including their locked iPad? Sure there are probably more pressing concerns in the event of a death in the family, but eventually, you turn to a person’s various iProducts. And as it turns out, the process of getting access to them is horrible.

Boston Globe columnist Hiawatha Bray brought the issue to light this week, telling the story of Harris Sussman, 70, a Somerville bed and breakfast owner whose wife died over a year ago:

Sussman visited the tech support mavens at an Apple store, his wife’s death certificate in hand. He showed them her obituary posted at the MIT Sloan website. He told me that he has received inaccurate and contradictory answers from 13 Apple employees he has contacted in person or by phone. He even tried e-mailing Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive.

“It’s been a year of real agony, I’m sorry to say,” Sussman told me. “I have to prove who I am, I have to prove I was married, I have to prove to them my wife died . . . Now they’re asking me to get what they call a testimentary to prove that I have the right to her property.”

This isn’t the first time Apple has gotten bad press for giving grieving relatives of iPad owners a hard time. The Globe‘s Bray basically lets Apple off the hook, though, writing, “A measure of Apple-bashing is justified here, but not too much.” Instead, Bray turns this into a pitch for digital password vaults and sites that get your online estate in order.

But should Apple get off that easy? To be sure, they need to be careful not to enable thieves who create a sad story about death to unlock stolen Apple products. (And a lot of Apple products get stolen these days.) But the company should have a better policy, preferably one that doesn’t require you to drag your loved one’s coffin to the Apple store along with a copy of your wedding video.

If Apple does keep the burden of proof high, though, they should at least have a clearer policy. The similarity between Sussman’s story and this one from the BBC, for instance, suggests that people are really unclear on what Apple need from them in order to get a password and that Apple employees aren’t good at clarifying it.

After 17 months, an Apple executive did finally send Sussman his wife’s iPad code. But for a company that’s supposed to make everyone’s life more convenient, that seems a bit too long.