Court Determines Spouse Must Be Given Access to Deceased Person’s iCloud Photos

The cloud has been invaluable to many as a storage solution for multiple files and data. But what happens after you pass away? What happens to those photos stored in the cloud? A man challenged Apple in court and won the right to the iCloud photos of his husband.

iCloud Access After Death

It’s just something we don’t think of when we’re setting up an iCloud account or storage with another cloud service. We’re just concerned with storing our precious photos and how much it’s going to be costing us.

After Rick Swezey died in an accident two years ago, Nicholas Scandailos, was trying to get access to his husband’s photos. While Apple didn’t refuse to open up the iCloud vault for him, they did require him to get a court order.

“Apple shall afford the opportunity to reset the password to [Swezey’s] Apple ID,” said Surrogate Judge Mella in a ruling.

Swezey did not explicitly spell out in his will that his husband should have access after his death. Mella determined that photos are not “electronic communication,” which requires proof of consent or a court order.


Many U.S. States have laws that give an estate’s executors default access to any materials that are stored locally on a device, but a will or court order is required for anything that is kept in the cloud. A handful of states transfer access to all digital content in the case of death.

But with this area of technology still relatively new, how to handle accounts should someone pass away is still being hammered out.

While Apple is compliant with legal orders to access data stored in the cloud, including when law enforcement and spying agencies are involved, it did resist when the FBI demanded they provide backdoor access to a mass shooting suspect’s iPhone, based on constitutional grounds that it would compromise iOS security.

But this decision does not compromise iOS security overall, as Scandailos is not looking for a backdoor on a device. He’s only looking for access to photos. It doesn’t require Apple to make any fundamental changes to hardware that could disrupt their time-honored privacy.


Certainly, this case is one to keep in mind. If you don’t have access to your loved one’s devices, you want to be sure they include something in their will that will provide you access on the occasion of their death. And that works both ways, so you’ll want to keep that in consideration when writing your own will as well.

Have you been put in the position of wanting the photos off your loved one’s device after they passed away? Add your thoughts to the comments and let us know how you feel about a court order giving access to iCloud photos.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.