The year was 1965, and Arizona dentist Vernon Eddlemon was sitting with his wife, Dottie, near the front pew in the Tempe Seventh-day Adventist Church. A deacon tapped him on the shoulder and whispered that there was a phone call for Vernon in the foyer.
The call from his brother’s medical partner was both shocking and devastating. The physician was in tears as he shared the terrible news: Vernon’s brother, Larry, his wife, Carol, along with their two oldest children, ages 10 and 12, had died in a private plane crash. Attempting to land in a sudden storm at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the plane had hit a downdraft and crashed. There were no survivors.
Dr. Eddlemon returned to the pew beside Dottie, visibly shaken.
“What’s wrong?” she quietly asked.
“Larry is dead,” he responded.
“What about Carol?”
“She’s dead too, and so are Larry Jr. and Dottie Jean,” he breathed through his tears.
“Should we leave?” she asked.
“Yes. We’ve got to get to David and Gene,” he responded, referring to Larry and Carol’s two youngest children, ages 4 and 6, who were suddenly orphans. They had been left with friends at home in South Carolina.
Who would get legal custody of the children?
It was the weekend, and in the days before ubiquitous credit cards, they didn’t have enough ready cash to purchase last-minute airline tickets. But church members quickly rallied and helped with emergency travel reservations and funding.
The immediate concern was who would provide for the surviving children. Although Larry and Carol had wills, they hadn’t included a testamentary trust nominating who should have legal custody to raise the children.
Just a few weeks before, Vern and Dottie had informed Larry and Carol that they had prepared wills and named them as guardians for their three children, Debbie, 8, Greg, 6, and Sheri, 4.
Carol had responded, “We would want you to raise our children should something happen to us.” But the provision hadn’t yet been added to their estate plan documents.
Non-Adventist relatives on Carol’s side wanted to have the boys, but Vernon acted quickly, seeking a private interview with the probate judge.
Providentially, Larry, a missionary-minded physician, had aided the judge in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to gain the victory over alcohol addiction, thus saving his life and his career. The judge was sympathetic to the Eddlemon’s desire to raise the nephews as their own in a Seventh-day Adventist home with an Adventist Christian education.
The judge ruled in their favor, granting them permanent custody of the boys.
As generous Adventist World Radio donors, the Eddlemons wished to share their story as a wake-up call to other young couples: it’s never too soon to have a legal estate plan, which includes guardianship provisions. Without explicit legal instructions for the probate judge, children may end up placed in non-Adventist or even non-Christian homes.
by Jeff Wilson, Assistant to the AWR President for Planned Giving
Ed Reid, Gary Dodge, and Jeff Wilson are assistants to the AWR president for planned giving. They can make house calls, and are assisted by attorneys who can answer your questions and guide in the process of estate planning and planned giving. Contact AWR today for an appointment … it’s never too early. Ask for Nancy Costa at 800-337-4297 or write to [email protected]