A Defensive Computing Checklist    by Michael Horowitz
NOTE: I gave a presentation on Defensive Computing at the HOPE conference in July 2022
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As the saying goes, there is no avoiding death and taxes. This page is not about taxes.

Step 1 is deciding who to trust.

Then, at the least, give the trusted person(s) access to your primary email account(s), tell them how to log into your devices (desktop computers, laptops, tablets, phones) and give them the passwords for your financial services, be they apps or websites. Apple users should provide their trusted people with both their AppleID password and the iPhone unlock code.

If your passwords are stored on paper, xerox the paper and give the copy to your trusted person. Of, if you use a password manager, maybe print the passwords using the software and, again, give that to your trusted person.

Apple has a whole system for this called the legacy contact, but I can't see that it is worth bothering with. Microsoft has no such system, neither does Google. Neither do the 894 other companies you deal with.

How do social media platforms deal with dead users' accounts? by Diego Mendoza for Semafor. May 8, 2023. Both Facebook and Instagram have a 'legacy contact' system. YouTube allows users to assign an Inactive Account Manager. Again, rather than deal with each company individually, just tell someone you trust how to get at your passwords.


It is one thing to give someone all your passwords, but passwords get changed over time and new accounts are always being opened.

What to do in 10 or 20 years when you no longer trust the person you gave all your passwords to?

One future proof solution: If you use a Password Manager you could give your trusted person the master password. This way as new accounts are created and passwords are changed on old accounts, the trusted person does not have to be given any updates. This also solves the second issue, of no longer trusting someone. Should this happen, change the master password and give the new one to your newly trusted person.


April 22, 2023: Before You Die, Secure Your Digital Life by Julie Jargon for the Wall Street Journal (so paywall). Ms. Jargon says that it is not enough to keep a list of account passwords, because you might forget to update it. Still, this is the far better option than all the other stuff in this article. It starts with how a few password managers let you designate someone to get your passwords when you die. To me, this is too complicated. And, you may change password manager software in the future. It is far better to write the down the master password for the password manager. The article also discusses "legacy contacts" for Apple, Google and Facebook. Here too, these systems strike me as way too complicated for someone grieving to deal with. Again, better to just write down the passwords somewhere that your loved ones know where they are.

May 8, 2023: Planning for the final digital divide by Susan Bradley for AskWoody.com. This is behind a paywall.

December 28, 2022: 6 easy fixes to avoid tech headaches in 2023 by Heather Kelly for the Washington Post. Topics in the article include preparing for your death.


You can save your loved ones grief, if you share with them your iPhone passcode and/or your iCloud credentials. Apple has a complicated system, called Digital Legacy, for allowing your survivors access to most, but not all, of your data.

  1. How to access iPhone content when someone passes away by Joseph Keller and Adam oram (June 2022). Without the passcode Apple won't (and often can't) unlock an iPhone. If you don't know your loved one's iCloud password but you do have access to their iCloud email address/userid, you could use that email to reset the password for the iCloud account.
  2. Apple Digital Legacy was introduced in iOS 15.2 and macOS Monterey 12.1. On iOS its at: Settings -> Your name -> Password & Security -> Legacy Contact. Your Legacy Contact(s) can be anyone, they do not need an Apple ID or an Apple device. There can be up to five contacts. Apple creates an "Access Key" which the surviving person needs to store, and not lose. To get your data, the survivor has to contact Apple, provide a death certificate and hope that Apple approves it. The survivor does not get iCloud Keychain, payment information, subscriptions, and licensed media. It strikes me as ridiculous to assume that this system will still be in place, unchanged, in 10, 20 or 30 years. Probably better to just share passwords.
  3. Set it up: How to add a Legacy Contact for your Apple ID from Apple. How to set up a Legacy Contact on iPhone and iPad by Adam Oram (May 2022) has many screen shots of the process.
  4. Limitations: Data that a Legacy Contact can access from Apple. Published May 2022.
  5. Using it: How to request access to a deceased family member's Apple account from Apple (April 2022)
  6. The iPhone Feature to Turn On Before You Die by Joanna Stern in WSJ (Dec 2021)


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