From the nytimes.com:

It is the saddest of paradoxes: a government-backed financial maneuver intended to free up extra money for struggling older people turns out to have left some widows and widowers on the brink of foreclosure.

This week, AARP sued the Housing and Urban Development Department over a handful of reverse mortgages gone awry. Lenders, following the letter of one of HUD’s rules, are requiring newly widowed people who want to stay in their homes to pay off the balance of their loans quickly, even if it is much more than the value of the home. Because they can’t (or won’t), the lenders are foreclosing.

This is happening only to a small number of people who did not have their names on the reverse mortgage for a variety of reasons. Some spouses did not put their names on the applications in order to qualify for a bigger loan, without necessarily realizing that they were putting themselves in jeopardy.

Reverse mortgages were not supposed to work like this. Instead, the big idea was to let people who were cash-poor but relatively rich in home equity draw on some (but not all) of that stored value. They’d get a lump sum, a line of credit or a monthly check for either a fixed period or for as long as they stayed in the home. And nearly everyone thought the rules were clear: homeowners or their heirs would never, even decades later, owe a cent beyond the value of the property.

The fact that it hasn’t turned out that way for some people is yet another warning sign on a financial product that has the potential to help those who have no other money to draw on in their old age. Reverse mortgages, after all, have historically been marked by high fees. Charlatans looking to extract people’s home equity and put that money into high-fee annuities and other questionable financial products sometimes used reverse mortgages to do it.

So if you’re even remotely considering a reverse mortgage or have a parent or friend who is, this is something else that can go horribly wrong if you’re not paying close attention during the application process.

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