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What to Do With a Reverse Mortgage When the Owner Dies

A reverse mortgage is a federally insured loan that provides homeowners with monthly cash payments based on the amount of equity they’ve built up in the property. While this can be a great tool for retirees who want an additional stream of income, it can spell trouble for whoever inherits the property after the death of the original owner.

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Repayment Rules for Reverse Mortgages

Even though a reverse mortgage is a loan, you’re not required to repay it as long as you’re using the home as your primary residence. The only time that repayment in full is required is if you move out, sell the property in order to buy a new house or pass away leaving no surviving co-signer. If you’re married and your spouse still lives in the home, repayment can be deferred until their death.

So what does this mean for someone who inherits a home with a reverse mortgage? Essentially, the beneficiary would be on the hook for the full loan balance. It wouldn’t matter if they planned to live in the home or not. The lender would still expect them to pay off the reverse mortgage and any interest that’s capitalized over the life of the loan term.

What Are Your Options?

What to Do With a Reverse Mortgage When the Owner Dies

When you’re left with a reverse mortgage obligation after a parent or loved one dies, you have four ways to deal with it.

You can put the home on the market to pay off the loan. If the property’s value is higher than the loan balance, you’d get to use whatever is left over for other expenses. When the loan exceeds the home’s equity value, you’d only be responsible for paying what the house is actually worth.

You can also pay off the loan so you can hang on to the home. Unless you inherited a large sum of cash along with the house, you’ll most likely have to finance the loan’s repayment. In this scenario, you’d have to meet certain lending requirements as far as your credit, income and debts go to qualify for a new mortgage.

A third option is to deed the property back to the lender. This is basically a way to avoid foreclosure. The lender becomes the owner of the property and heirs don’t bear any further financial responsibility for the home.

There are some advantages to giving the property back compared to the fourth option, which is simply walking away from the home altogether. If the lender forecloses and the home is sold at auction, the homeowner’s estate could still be held liable for the repayment of the loan debt.

A trusted professional may be of great service to you amid these complicated reverse mortgage matters, and you can use SmartAsset’s SmartAdvisor matching tool to get paired up with an expert who can cater to your particular needs.

Know Your Rights

What to Do With a Reverse Mortgage When the Owner Dies

If you find yourself holding the bag for a reverse mortgage, it’s important to remember that you have certain rights. For example, anytime a homeowner dies with a reverse mortgage in place, the lender must formally notify the heirs that the loan is due. Beneficiaries are given 30 days to figure out their next steps.

Once you’ve decided to sell or pay off the loan, you’ll have an additional six months to complete the transaction. In some instances, you may be able to get a six-month extension to finalize the deal. Being aware of the rules that are in place can keep you from making poor decisions when trying to resolve the issue with your reverse mortgage.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/DragonImages, ©iStock.com/cnythzl, ©iStock.com/4774344sean

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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