1. Who gets your stuff? If you don't leave a will, state law will determine how your assets are divided upon your death. Read this chart to determine if the Texas law divides your assets as you would like. You may have assumed that your spouse would inherit everything, but if you have surviving children and no will, the kids will inherit most of your separate property (stuff you owned before marriage or acquired by inheritance, gift, bequest). If you don't have children, your spouse could lose ½ of your separate property to your parents, siblings or nieces and nephews. Even community property that you and your spouse built up over many years may have to be divided with children from a previous relationship. There is no needs based test, there is no question of what you would have wanted. Your assets will be divided according to the law if you don't have a will.

2. Who will raise your kids? Usually your will names the person you want to act as guardian of your minor children. Alternatively, you can sign a separate designation of guardian. If you do neither, Texas law will step in and decide who will act as your children's guardian (the guardian of their person). If their other biological parent survives and is able and willing to serve, then they will be appointed. If not, then the grandparents are next in line, followed by the nearest of kin. So the step-parent that has helped raise them for the last eight years will not be appointed, nor will their godparent or the close friend who agreed to take care of your kids if something happened to you. The court chooses among those who seek the appointment at the same level of relationship according to circumstances and the minor's best interest. If the kids are at least twelve years old, their wishes are given great weight.

3. Who will manage any money you left for your minor kids?If you don't set up a trust in your will to provide for the management of the retirement money, IRA, sales proceeds from house, and all the other assets you leave behind, a court will have to appoint a guardian for your minor children's estate. This is separate from the guardian for their person, although the same person may be appointed. If you are not married to the kids' other parent, he or she will likely be appointed. This may be fine if the other parent is good at managing money and investments and shares your values about how money should best be used for your children's future. It may not be okay with you if their other parent is no longer your spouse and you don't want him or her in control of your money. Also, a guardian appointed by the court will have to post a bond, provide annual accounts to the court, obtain consent from the court in order to sell, invest or take other actions with respect to the property. If your minor child dies, the assets you left to him will be distributed to his or her heirs, not yours – so your retirement money and other assets might end up divided among your ex-spouse, your child's half-siblings, and your other surviving children. Setting up a trust also allows you to provide guidance as to how the money is to be distributed and what kinds of investments you find acceptable.

4. Your kids take control of money at 18. If you don't provide otherwise in a will or separate trust document, any kids who are 18 or older when you die will inherit any money and other assets outright and the younger kids will get their share as they turn 18. This may be fine if your kids are financially responsible or you aren't leaving enough money for them to make it worth setting up a trust. But eighteen year olds aren't known for their budgeting skill. They may think they can buy a new Mustang and rent that really nice apartment near campus and take trips with their friends each summer and still have plenty left to pay for four years of college. If you want to be sure they use the money for college or starting a business, then you may want to set up a trust to provide for a trusted adult to oversee how they use the money you leave to them until they are a little more mature.

5. Increased expense and hassle. The probate process becomes more cumbersome and expensive if you don't have a will. In a will, you can name the person you want to be in charge of administering your estate and provide that he does not have to post a bond. The independent executor that you name will have to go to court to be appointed and later to file an inventory, appraisement and list of claims. There is very little court participation. But if you don't have a will, then dependent administration is usually required. Someone – usually your spouse or kids – has to apply to the court to be appointed as administrator and post a bond, which will be paid for by your estate. The court has to appoint attorney ad litem to represent unknown heirs, which is paid for out of the estate. The administrator will have to get consent of court to sell assets, distribute funds, and take just about any actions. The extra expense of going to court will be charged to your estate.

6. Estate taxes. Your estate must pay taxes of 35-40% on all amounts by which your gross estate (including insurance proceeds and retirement accounts) exceeds the current exclusion amount - $5.34 million in 2014 and projected to be $5.43 million in 2015. You might have been able to take steps to reduce the taxes on the excess amount – such as lifetime gifting or providing for a bypass trust if you had planned ahead.