Earlier this week, I received an unexpected call. It was a call we all get sometime in our lives, and one we most never want to hear.

"I'm sorry, so-and-so has passed away," the caller informs you. What? No, it can be, you think to yourself. She was in the prime of her life! Two kids in college, two still at home. A wife, a mother, a cattle lady, a friend. Was she in poor health? What happened?

These were just some of my initial thoughts, and I know many of you can relate. Whether it's the loss of a neighbor or family member, primary operator or seasonal help, it affects each part of the farming and ranching business in different ways. At times like this it's hard to pull everything together and carry on with business, which is why Damona Doye, Oklahoma State University Extension economist, stresses preparing for the unexpected.

"If you talk to lenders, there are four Ds that are most frequently the sources of farm and ranch failure," she says. They are: death, disability, divorce and disaster. "It's not mismanagement or poor management, it's unexpected things like [the four Ds] that result in business failure," she says.

Times like these bring about hard questions, such as: Who makes the decision to perpetuate the business? Who will care for the livestock? The finances? Do they know how to get operating loans? A well-thought out plan can keep the business trucking along.

Doye recommends people prepare by having a durable power of attorney, having a will, medical directives, a list of account and credit card numbers, proof of ownership and keeping beneficiaries up to date. Having these documents in place and accessible to family members can lessen the stress associated with a bad situation.

My heart goes out to those experiencing a bad situation, and my hope is we can all be a little better prepared for the unexpected. For more info and resources on transitioning the business, visit www.beefmagazine.com/business/estate-planning.