Many memories can be found in objects of sentimental value. A special photo of your parents on their wedding day. A set of china that was a gift from your father to your mother.
When your parent or parents die, or transition into assisted living, these items can take on even more value—as you will most likely become their recipient.
Taking ownership of these items is a difficult process. Either transition is a drastic change to your family. Then, you receive all of these items, and it becomes overwhelming. What are you to do with this part of your parents lives?
First, you should take a deep breath. This will be a long process, but sorting through these items and figuring out what you need to keep will be cathartic for you. This is going to take more than an hour or a day. Do your work in stages. Carve out time an hour here or an hour there to look through your parents items. This is not a cold process; this will be time for you to get some closure. Of course, this will be an easier process if your parents are still alive as they can decide on items that they want to keep prior to their move. You can help them with transitioning of assets, heirlooms and other items.
Open the boxes and begin sorting. Make sure you have someone with you who can help you stay on task, but wont get in the way of your process. Think about what your parents held dear and would want preserved in your family. Put those things aside. Next sort items into categories, like china/silverware, photographs and albums (you will probably hold on to these), clothing, books and papers/documents.
Each of the other piles will need inspection. The papers and documents will need your attention as there could be bank statements and legal documents that held your parents assets and wishes for their children regarding those items and assets. These could include family history or deeds to houses and cars. Be sure to shred documents that need shredding.
As far as heirlooms go, value is in the eye of the beholder. Think about the china, or the Tiffany lamp, now in your possession. Do you like or need these things? Is there someone else in the family, perhaps a generation lower, who would use them more than you would? Its ok to share these things with family members!
If you have items of value that no one in the family wants, perhaps they can be sold. EBay and Craigslist are two places that could be beneficial in selling these items. Also, consignment houses can take on the clothing and jewelry that you have, too. Lets not forget that items can be donated to Goodwill, AmVets, or other charities.