• Don't do it alone. Once you've separated out what might have value (furniture, jewelry, artwork, porcelain, other collectibles) ask a certified appraiser to do a walk-through inspection with you and identify items worth a closer look. Then get those items appraised. (Beware of fraudulent estate sales companies, warns Gaffney. Check credentials.) Get a sense of what some items are selling for on eBay.
• Know the value. That helps assure you'll get a fair return if you sell the item at an estate sale, auction or to an antique dealer. It also helps make the fighting fair if siblings are dividing up possessions. “Often, when family members know how little something is worth, they let go of it more easily,” Gaffney said.
• Not worth it. Just as that piece of junk you thought was worthless could be a hidden treasure, more often items family members believe have value, don't. For instance, almost no market exists for figurines, which often disappoints those who've collected Lladro and Hummel. Signed and numbered prints also don't usually fetch what owners paid, unless the artist became well known, she said.
• What to keep. The toughest call, however, is not what to toss, donate, sell, or have appraised, but what to keep. Consider condition, quality, lines and how difficult it would be to ship. Beyond that, what to keep is a highly personal decision, said Gaffney. “Some people don't want any reminders, and just want to liquidate. Some just want the cookie jar. But others have a strong emotional connection to many furnishings. You have to find your sweet spot. When it gets too emotional, step away. Take some time.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.