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A smartphone wrapped in thick metal chains secured with a brass padlock, symbolizing restricted cell phone access or data protection. The phone is placed on a white background.

What happens to your cell phone if something happens to you?

Imagine losing your cellphone. In an instant, contact information for everyone you know is gone. Thousands of pictures and other important information are locked away in thin air. Multi-factor authentication no longer works on many of your important accounts because you don’t have the phone that can receive the text/email/pin. If you are lucky, you have a backup plan that puts you back in operation in a day or two.

What if a person dies and there isn’t a plan to access their phone?

When a person dies, access to their cellphone often dies, too. And without the ability to unlock a cellphone, there is virtually no way to access critical information like online banking and email, especially if the phone is used for multi-factor authentication. Photos and contacts can be locked in the cloud inaccessible.

I know because it happened to my family. I learned the hard way that sound estate plans should include a mobile phone legacy plan.

Appoint someone who can unlock your phone if you die.

Smart phones have an option to appoint a surrogate for whom your phone can be unlocked. Apple/iPhone calls it a Legacy Contact.  Google/Android refers to it as Inactive Account Manager.

Your contact can be anyone you choose. Ideally, it is someone who will be your personal representative or will work closely with those handling your estate. The process is easy.

For iPhone or iPad Users (Apple):

  1. Go to Settings, then tap your name
  2. Choose Sign-In & Security, then tap Legacy Contact
  3. Choose Add Legacy Contact.
  4. Print a copy of the access key or send it directly to the person you designate.

A few tips:

  1. The Key Only Works Upon Your Death. The legacy contact that you designate will need this key and a copy of your death certificate to access your account so be sure that your legacy contact knows the plan. You can give the access key to the legacy contact now but understand that they won’t be able to access any of your information without a death certificate.
  2. Your Estate Planning Docs. Ideally, you will add it to your estate planning documents so that it is securely saved and found at the time of need.
  3. Your Birthdate. Apple reviews requests from legacy contacts before providing access to the data in your account. Your birthday is used to verify information during this review process so be sure that your birthday is accurate in your Settings.

Like any tool in a sound estate plan, the Legacy Contact must be kept up to date. You can remove/replace a Legacy Contact at any time:

  1. Go to Settings, then tap your name
  2. Tap Password & Security, then tap the name you wish to change
  3. Tap Remove Contact
  4. The individual will not be notified of the change, but your name will no longer appear in their Legacy Contact list if their device includes that setting.

More information about establishing an Apple Legacy Contact can be found here.

For Android Users (Google):

  1. Sign in to your Google account and go to Google Account Settings.
  2. Choose Data & Privacy in the sidebar.
  3. Choose More options.
  4. Select Make a plan for your digital legacy and click Start
  5. Choose whether you want your Google account to be set as inactive after 3, 6, 12, or 18 months. Click Save
  6. Add relevant details like your mobile number, email address, and recovery email address. Click Next.
  7. Click Add Person and enter the email address of the person you want to notify when your account becomes inactive. You can add up to 10 people. Click Next.
  8. Select which services you want the person to have access to. Click Next
  9. Enter the person’s phone number to verify their identity. Click Save.
  10. Click Set Auto Reply to send a custom auto-reply message when your account becomes inactive. Enter your message and select Save. Click Next.
  11. Google allows you to delete your Google Account three months after it becomes inactive. To select this option, toggle on the button next to Delete your inactive Google Account.
  12. Click Review Plan to verify if the details are correct.
  13. Click Confirm Plan to finish setting up Inactive Account Manager.

More information about establishing an Inactive Account Manager can be found here.

Name the person you want to have access to your phone while you are alive and have control.

You may still be working on your estate plan. We recommend you make this the year to get it done. Contact me at SYM Financial Advisors for help getting started. Today, you can make progress with little effort. Taking a minute to establish this contact in your phone while you are alive, can save your loved ones a lot of trouble upon your death. So, get to it!

Michelle Hipskind, CFP®

Learn more about SYM’s Women’s Initiative here.

The opinions expressed herein are those of SYM Financial Corporation (“SYM”) and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to sell any product. SYM reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs. SYM is an independent investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about SYM including our investment strategies, fees, and objectives can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available upon request.

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