Church President Probability Changes with Elder Perry’s Death

Elder L. Tom Perry died on May 30th at the age of 92. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that one question that I immediately wondered about on hearing the news was how this would affect the other Q15 members’ probabilities of becoming Church President.

Here are their probabilities and average predicted years of being President before and after Elder Perry’s death. These come from the simulation I posted about a couple of months ago where I used a mortality table to run 1000 scenarios and see in how many each Q15 member would become Church President.

change in probabilities of becoming president with elder perry's death

There’s some change for Elders Nelson and Oaks, particularly in his probability of becoming the next President, and a little for Elder Ballard, but after that, it’s pretty much nothing. This probably shouldn’t be surprising, as Elder Perry was the oldest member of the Q15, and the age gap between him and the younger members of the quorum was so large that they were all almost certain to outlive him. The simulations using the mortality tables already were anticipating that Elder Perry wasn’t likely to be blocking, say Elder Bednar, from becoming President, so when he died, nothing changed for the least senior members of the quorum.

If you’re interested in this question more generally, of how probabilities change when a quorum member dies, you might enjoy this post I wrote a few years ago where I looked back at how historical probabilities had changed since 1950.

Once the new Q15 member has been called in October, I’m planning to re-do the simulation in a new post that’s continuously updated like my post in April was, so you’ll be able to refer to that post on an ongoing basis to track the quorum members’ probabilities of becoming President.


  1. Very interesting, as always. I wonder how hard it would be to run the same analysis on the assumption that any of the remaining 14 FP/Q12 died today. Basically, look to see who’s potential death would have the greatest affect on others. My guess is the results would mirror above results for “pres ever”; that is, those with the greatest chance of become president ever would also have the greatest impact on others’ chances by dying.

  2. I think that’s largely right, Dave K. Quorum members who have a high probability are seen by the mortality tables as likely to outlive the members senior to them, so if they died now, it would be most unexpected and would shake everyone else’s probabilities the most. The one twist, I think, is that a quorum member’s probability of becoming President depends on his age relative to the ages of the men in front of him, but his ability to shake up the probabilities if he died now depends on his age relative to the ages of the members behind him. If there were a big age gap between a member and the members junior to him, for example, even if he died unexpectedly, their probabilities wouldn’t change much because they already would have been expected to outlive him.

    Anyway, interesting question! Maybe I’ll see if I can do that for a future post.

  3. Going along with the unseemliness of this topic, we should perhaps add the possibility that we will have a senior apostle who is so ill or infirm that he is nonfunctioning and cannot assume the presidency under any circumstances. Fortunately, that will be dealt with without great difficulty because choosing the senior apostle to be the next president is a “sacred custom” and not carved in stone.

  4. His number of years as president goes down because he gets to be president now in more of the simulations (20% vs. 18% before) and in the additional simulations, his time as president is shorter than it was in the simulations where he was president before (i.e., before Elder Perry died). These simulations with shorter tenures pull his overall average down.

  5. Aaron,the by-laws of the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints specifically require succession by the senior apostle.If no revelation leading to changing the by-laws is claimed before a succession as you describe,I expect that the incapacitated President would be sustained in his absence,and the customary excuses for his continuing absence be made until his death.Recall Hinckley’s role in Kimball’s last years.(Did Marion G. Romney ever preside over the Quorum of the Twelve in the years he was its president,for all of which Hunter was Acting President?…yet if Benson had died,Romney would have become President of the Church).

  6. Yes,the wipeout of Packer’s 36% must launch Nelson’s chances enormously.Oaks (who I’ve assumed would actually BE the next president) has probably picked up some percent too.

  7. I just wanted to say thanks for making these posts. I find it incredibly fascinating and although I’ve referred to these posts when talking with friends, I’ve never left a comment before to say thanks.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this changes after Packer’s exit stage right.

  8. Comment 8 betrays its origins in the bowels of the DAMU with its omissions and half-truths and willing distortions of fact:

    This claim has as its only basis the 1940 amendment to Article 4 of the articles of incorporation of the Church.

    But in the event of death or resignation from office of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or in the event of a vacancy in that office from any cause, the President or Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of said Church, or one of the members of said Quorum thereunto designated by that Quorum, shall, pending the installation of a successor President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be the corporation sole under these articles, and the laws pursuant to which they are made, and shall be and is authorized in his official capacity to execute in the name of the corporation all documents and other writings necessary to the carrying on of its purposes, business and objects, and to do all things in the name of the corporation which the original signer of the articles of incorporation might do; it being the purpose of these articles that there shall be no failure in succession in the office of such corporation sole. [I have not proofread to catch any bizarrities AutoCorrupt may have introduced.]

    That’s it. In order to read this article as Louis E. presents it, you have to ignore the facts that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles may designate ANY member of the Quorum, not just its president or acting president, to be corporation sole [i.e., to act as legal officer in matters having to do with civil government], AND that regardless of which member of the Quorum is designated as corporation sole, the appointment is an interim one, lasting only until “the installation of a successor President of the Church.” This says absolutely nothing about how that successor President is chosen, and the interim President’s powers, as spelled out in this article, are only those covered by the articles of incorporation — i.e., the tasks which are properly handled by engagement with civil government, not those over which the state has no authority (ecclesiastical, priesthood, spiritual matters, including the inspired selection of a new head of the Church). The single purpose of this article is plainly stated in its text: to be sure there is no gap between presidents in the ability of someone to act in matters where the state might not otherwise recognize the right of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to act.

    tl;dr: The articles of incorporation of the Church do NOT require succession by the senior apostle; this is a distortion promoted by the DAMU to cast the Church as a for-profit business and to discount any claim to divine direction.

  9. And contra Louis E, there is nothing in Article 4 as quoted here that requires that Romney would have become either interim president or President of the Church, had ETB died during the time that Romney was President, and Hunter Acting President of the 12.

    It seem absolutely certain to me that Hunter would have acted as interim president (for both the legal issues addressed in Article 4, as well as ecclesiastical functions) during the time there was no First Presidency. As to who would have become the President of the Church when the First Presidency was reorganized, the Article doesn’t address that. That would be up to the 12 as the presiding quorum of the church. At the time, I thought it quite possible that Romney would have been passed over, the church already having formally acknowledged that he was unable to carry out the responsibilities of his nominal calling as President of the Twelve.

  10. I should add that any number of other options would have been possible had that circumstance arisen. Perhaps Romney as President Emeritus, Hunter as President. Or Romney as President, and resurrecting for Hunter the long-dormant office of Assistant President.

  11. I find comment #12 to be both confused and confusing. The church is a network of organizations, some of which are for-profit and some of which are not. The church isn’t trying to hide that either. Seems strange to accuse someone of using that fact for defamatory purposes. It is what it is, that’s all.


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