Inheriting / donating property mixed with stolen items.
I inherited large amount of items amassed by an elder relative who passed away.
I am also helping his widow to clear the house.
First group of items in question is of low or no value: large amount of disposable items like paper napkins and paper towels from fast food places (the huge quantities of them are being indication of the person’s mental illness); new plastic shopping bags from supermarkets, disposable medical supplies from hospitals etc. Would it be OK to use them or they have to be put into garbage? (seems to be wasteful).
The second group of items is of value: jewelry, silver kitchen utensils, artwork. According to the widow some of the items were received by the deceased as gifts. However later in his life (probably as a result of his mental problems) he apparently took some other items without permission of a Jewish owner he was working for. He took some of the items that he was hired to bring to Hadassah thrift shop as a donation. He also took some of items from the owner’s home when others (workers as well as visiting relatives) where “helping themselves” while the elderly owner was being moved to a nursing home. All this info is according to his widow (she was horrified but was too afraid of her husband to confront him). At this point it is impossible to find heirs to the rightful owner. It is also mostly impossible to identify /separate stolen items from rightfully acquired ones.
What is halakhic status of this property? The widow would like to donate most but not all of the items to Jewish charities. Is it permissible? – If so, in the name of the deceased or anonymously? How to rectify / atone for the neshomah of the deceased?
As you mentioned the deceased suffered from mental illness, and so it is hard to know how much of his actions he was responsible for. If there is no way to return or repay the rightful owners, the items should be donated to a charity. As an atonement for the deceased, a part of his assets should also be set aside and given to charity as well, this could be in his name.