The Quorum of The Twelve functioning as the First Presidency upon the death of a Church president
President Harold B. Lee quoted Wilford Woodruff as follows: “With reference to this subject, the fourth President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, made a few observations in a letter to President Heber J. Grant, then a member of the Twelve, under the date of March 28, 1887. I quote from that letter: ‘…when the President of the Church dies, who then is the Presiding Authority of the Church? It is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (ordained and organized by the revelations of God and none else). While these Twelve Apostles preside over the Church, who is the President of the Church? It is the President of the Twelve Apostles, and he is virtually as much the President of the Church while presiding over twelve men as he is when organized as the Presidency of the Church, and presiding over two men.’ ” (Conference Report, April 1970, page 124 or Improvement Era, June 1970, page 29).
Speaking at Brigham Young University just two weeks after President Lee’s passing away, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated the following: “When the President of the Church passes on, the First Presidency is disorganized and the mantle of leadership goes to the senior man left and to the Council of the Twelve as a body; in effect, the Council of the Twelve then becomes the First Presidency of the Church and so continues unless and until a formal reorganization takes place.” (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1974, pages 19-20)