I had an Aunt who labeled everything she owned with hand written notes. She wanted her survivors to understand the history and specialness of each object she cherished.
I used to think it was a little bit weird that she did that, but now that she and her generation are all gone, I cherish her notes. She usually told who she got the item from, how much she thought it was worth and why she treasured it.
She basically taught me that things can carry forward family history, traditions and legacy. When folks have an object that they can physically touch, see and smell it brings the past alive for them. Things can be more contested than financial assets when you die. Do you have things that may cause family fights over who gets them?
My plan is to distribute many of the real family heirlooms while I live, providing both a verbal and a written history of the object and why it is special to the family. My grandson already has the toy roll top desk that my Mother (and my brother and I) used as a child. My granddaughter received the white iron toy bed that three generations have played with already. With each, I typed up a paragraph and attached a picture and emailed it to the parents.
My grand kids are making their own special memories of these family objects. When I visit them, I can tell them stories about other family members who played with them, passing along family history.
If you have special family heirlooms, you can also decide who will get them at your death by making a list and attaching it to your will. You could also let your dear ones pick out (now) the things they would or would not want, so you know where there might be conflict (and where you might want to consider donating to a museum!).
Let’s face it, we all own a lot of junk nobody else in the world would want. But you might be surprised at the reactions of, say, your children, to an object with which they grew up. To deal with that, you could specify in your will or trust that you want to do a round robin – letting each heir pick one thing on each round. Or they could do an auction – bidding on items with fake credits or play money given out in equal amounts.
You might also inventory the most valuable and the most cherished items, so your heirs know what they are!