Certainty — what we wouldn’t give for it in so many aspects of business and leadership. Still, absolute certainty is largely elusive, so we do our best to mitigate risks, chart trends, analyze data, consult experts, assemble teams, strategize, listen to our gut and sometimes cross our fingers. 

Even in our personal lives we strive for certainty when we confirm dates and times, read product reviews, obtain trusted referrals, save for a rainy day, guide our kids to apply to a shoo-in college, listen to our gut and, sometimes, cross our fingers.

Yet there are three absolute, 100% sure things about which we remain illiterate and which cost us a ton of money and even more emotional capital every year. They are:

  • At the end of life comes death.
  • There are no do-overs at the end of life.
  • Changed forever, your surviving loved ones remain.

Please don’t stop reading because this is too sad or touchy-feely. This is the business of your life and your loved ones. There is nothing more valuable.

Two out of three adults in the U.S. do not have adequate end-of-life documents (a will and advance health care directives). There is no statistically significant difference in this data point based on age or socioeconomic status.

You are a leader. You have survived the most extraordinary year of our time. It is not if you or your loved ones will face death but when, so get to the business of the matter. Here are your three to-dos:

► Load your medical I.D. details into your smartphone. If it has been set up correctly, it is accessible even when the phone is locked. This five-minute task could actually save a life, thereby postponing the inevitable death. After you have done yours, make sure that everyone in your family has completed theirs and that everyone knows how to access a medical I.D. on a locked phone.

► Establish your advance health care directives, health care proxy and backup health care proxy, close all communication loops on this and make sure the name of your proxy is on your person at all times. This applies to anyone 18 or older, so be sure this is done for your adult children as well.

► Get your personal administrative stuff together so your survivors can focus on their love and their grief for you rather than being overwhelmed by having to track down account numbers, deeds, titles and passwords.

Because you are a leader, share this information freely. Perhaps the only thing worse than your own medical I.D. being inaccessible in an emergency is being unable to access lifesaving information about your best friend. Imagine that helplessness and then add the unbearable weight of knowing you could have been better prepared.

Your leadership objective here is proactive regret management. At the end of life comes death. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have loved well and been loved will leave behind profound sadness upon their demise and death. The sadness and grief are givens. We can prevent the consternation, confusion and guilt that come with facing questions about the end-of-life wishes of a loved one when we could be simply providing answers in the form of their advance health care directives.

Next, consider the dollars and cents. The probate costs in Arkansas average 5% of the value of the estate. That’s 5% of all that you have worked for gone — poof — upon your death before you have paid a single attorney or search firm to locate beneficiaries. Dying without a valid will can cut into the value of an estate by as much as 30%-40%. Imagine a 30% loss in company value because the CEO failed to prepare for a single, entirely certain event.

This is the business of your life and your loved ones. Lead it well and help your friends, associates and community do the same by sharing this information.


Jennifer A. O’Brien has been a practice management consultant to physicians for more than 30 years and served as CEO for two large medical practices in Little Rock. She is the widow of Dr. Robert Lehmberg and author of the book "The Hospice Doctor’s Widow: A Journal." Email her at hospicedrswidow@gmail.com or visit her website.

This article originally appeared in Arkansas Business.


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