Death in office

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A death in office is the death of a person who was incumbent of an office-position until the time of death. Such deaths have been usually due to natural causes, but they are also caused by accidents, suicides, disease and assassinations.

The death of most monarchs and popes have been deaths in office, since they have usually held their papacy/reign for the rest of their lives. As most other office positions require that the incumbent be constantly competent in performing the associated duties, other deaths in office are usually premature deaths.


Systems differ in how they deal with the death of an office holder. In some death results in a casual vacancy, whereby the office is unfilled for a time. The office may subsequently be filled by a by-election or by appointment. A person may temporarily take the powers and responsibilities of the deceased in an "acting" capacity before a permanent replacement is made. In other systems there may be a legally defined order of succession. For example, in hereditary monarchies reigns are typically expected to end with death and the transition of power to an heir. Many presidential systems have offices of vice president, whose principal responsibility is to immediately assume the presidency if the president dies or otherwise leaves the office.


Heads of state and government[edit]

Indonesian governor(s)[edit]

Russian governors[edit]

Northern Rhodesia governor(s)[edit]

Sir John Maybin, governor of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) (1941)[1]

United States[edit]

U.S. Congress[edit]

Upon the death of a United States senator, the Governor of the senator's home state typically appoints a successor.

Upon the death of a member of the United States House of Representatives, a special election is held to pick a successor.

The most recent member of the U.S. Congress to die in office was Representative Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey.[2]

Other notable members who died in office include:


In addition, 8 U.S. presidents died in office, four of which were assassinated.

Curse of Tippecanoe[edit]

A well-known legend is the Curse of Tippecanoe in which Harrison, elected in 1840, was allegedly cursed by a Native American chief during the Battle of Tippecanoe, so that he and future Presidents elected in the years ending in "0" would die in office. The curse also affected Lincoln (1860), Garfield (1880), McKinley (1900), Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940), and Kennedy (1960). Ronald Reagan (1980) survived an assassination attempt in 1981. George W. Bush (2000) also did not die in office. Joe Biden (2020), the incumbent president, is next in line for the curse.

The curse does not apply to Taylor as he was elected in 1848.

State and local levels[edit]

Many mayors (e.g., George Moscone, Harold Washington, Ed Lee) and state governors (e.g., Lurleen Wallace, Lawton Chiles, Frank O'Bannon) have died in office. Similar to the President being succeeded by the Vice President, in most states, the Governor is succeeded by the Lieutenant Governor. Unlike the President, however, mayors are usually succeeded by the president of the city's legislative branch, as acting mayor, upon the mayor's death.


  1. ^ Martin Sylvester (January 2013). "Governor of Northern Rhodesia 5 May 1938 – 9 April 1941". Retrieved 2016-10-03.
  2. ^ "New Jersey congressman Donald Payne Jr. dies at 65". The Washington Post. 2024-04-24. Retrieved 2024-04-25.
  3. ^ Fox, Lauren; Raju, Manu; Talbot, Haley; Foran, Clare; LeBlanc, Paul (September 29, 2023). "Dianne Feinstein, longest-serving female US senator in history, dies at 90". CNN. Retrieved September 29, 2023.