Estate planning isn\u2019t at the top of most party conversation topic lists, but maybe it should be. It is actually a topic that gets easier to think about when you feel free to let discussions spin a little. And a friend who is a financial planner says it\u2019s best to start these conversations by opening a bottle of your favorite adult beverage. There are some trends I\u2019ve noticed when I talk with clients in different generations.\r\n\r\nBaby Boomers need to engage in WHEN planning. It isn\u2019t a question of if they\u2019re going to need a plan, it\u2019s a question of when they\u2019ll need the plan. They\u2019ve seen planning become important to their parents. They know the truth of the statistic that say one out of every four adults will suffer a period of incapacity. They surprise themselves by agreeing wholeheartedly with the US Navy, which has followed the engineering concept of \u201ckeep it simple, stupid\u201d since the 1970s. Smartly, they focus on these topics:\r\n\r\n\u2022 Make sure your health care directives are current. I always think of a particular client whose first health care directive (done when she was 45) firmly said, \u201cKeep me out of pain, but do not use any extraordinary measures to keep me alive.\u201d Her thinking has changed over the years, and her most current directive is a bit more realistic. It directs her health care agent to keep her alive long enough for doctors to assess the situation and long enough for her agent to make an educated guess about how things are likely to go. She\u2019s had the very difficult conversation with her agent about withdrawing nutrition and hydration, and she\u2019s put her thoughts onto paper, not as instructions to her doctors but as a reminder to her agent.\r\n\r\n\u2022 Choose your agents carefully. There are a few jobs you have to assign when you create your plan. You need to pick someone who will manage your finances if you become unable to do so (your agent under your power of attorney). You need to pick someone to make health care decisions for you if you can\u2019t make them (your health care agent). You need to decide who will be best at carrying out your instructions about how your assets should be used after your death (your executor if you use a will or your successor trustee if you use a trust).\r\n\r\nThere are three factors in picking these people. First, you need someone who has the time to fulfill the job. Keep in mind that you are definitely giving these people jobs that will be time consuming. Second, you need someone who has the right temperament for each the job. One person may be good with financial decisions like investments but horrible with emotional decisions like deciding about medical treatment. Pick the right person for the job. Finally, you need someone who is geographically appropriate. It might be just fine to pick someone who lives a thousand miles away to pay your bills, but the person who is going to make health care decisions should be close enough to get to a medical facility without hopping on a plane.\r\n\r\n\u2022 They realize that when it comes to leaving assets for family members, \u201cequal\u201d isn\u2019t the goal. \u201cFair\u201d is. Most states\u2019 default rules say your assets go equally to your kids, but the default rules weren\u2019t written for you. They were written by a legislative committee who didn\u2019t know you or your family. I have two sons, and I have never made decisions based on whether I\u2019m treating them equally. They have different interests, and I have always encouraged each of them to pursue his strengths and avoid his weaknesses. Why wouldn\u2019t I do that in my estate plan? Why would I ignore their personalities when I\u2019m preparing my final documents? You shouldn\u2019t. Your documents should continue your parental habits.\r\n\r\nGeneration Xers are often still thinking about WHAT IF. What if one of my kids creates the next huge tech success but my other one is a great high school teacher? What if one of them marries a superstar but another one ends up divorced? Heck, what if I get divorced? Their plans tend to focus on controlling the controllables:\r\n\r\n\u2022 Identifying the right guardians to raise their kids if they die while the kids are young. Planning discussions often grind to a halt because parents can\u2019t agree on this topic. But here\u2019s the secret \u2013 you don\u2019t have to agree with the other parent because, the truth is, whichever parent lives longest gets the last word on this. If I think my brother would do a good job, but my spouse completely disagrees, THAT\u2019S OK. It is much better to get some instruction on paper than to leave my kids at risk that a judge will try to decide without any guidance from me. Control this risk! At all costs!\r\n\r\n\u2022 Keep costs down. Most people redo their estate planning documents 3 or 4 times. You will pay for attorney time along the way, but planning costs are miniscule compared to the cost of not planning. I live in California, where it may cost you a few thousands of dollars to get a plan prepared by an attorney. But compare that to the costs of using the state\u2019s default estate plan, which imposes statutory fees for probate. If I own a $500,000 house, it\u2019ll cost $26,000 to transfer title through the default system. Half of that goes the individual you\u2019ve named to carry out your instructions, and half goes to the attorney who leads the court process. Not planning can be very expensive.\r\n\r\nFor Millennials, planning is usually about making sure the right people can step up to help when the time comes. Once you\u2019re married, your spouse has priority in making decisions for you. Until then, your parents are first in line, but, often, parents may not really be the first choice. The fact that you\u2019re not yet married doesn\u2019t mean you\u2019re not allowed to give instructions.\r\n\r\nTo give those instructions, you need to create and sign a durable power of attorney for assets and a health care directive. In these documents, you can identify the people you want to manage your finances and make health care decisions for you. You may still pick your parents, but you may want to give a friend or a sibling a place in the process. And just in case the app you\u2019re developing is the next big tech success, you may want a will in place so your hard work provides benefit to the people and groups you would pick. The default rules I mentioned above will direct all your assets to your parents. That may not be what you want, but if you haven\u2019t given any instructions, that\u2019s what will happen.\r\n\r\nEstate plans evolve, but they are important at every stage of life. Make sure you\u2019ve been responsible in giving instructions. Those instructions may change, but that\u2019s OK \u2013 documents are easy to revise.