It seems that one of the most popular questions we get is:

What happens with my reverse mortgage and my home after death?

When considering a reverse mortgage, an important question many borrowers and their heirs face is what happens to the reverse mortgage and the family home after the borrower’s death.  This concern is particularly significant given that reverse mortgages are often viewed as the last loan a homeowner may need, designed to allow them to tap into their home equity while relieving them of monthly mortgage payments for life.

The amount of a reverse mortgage, known as the eligible principal limit, is primarily influenced by the age of the youngest borrower.  This figure is determined from the home’s value, HUD lending limits, and the current interest rates.  It’s common for borrowers and their families to worry about potential changes to the loan, especially in situations where one of the borrowers, irrespective of being older or younger, passes away first.

ARLO explains how reverse mortgages work after death

Reverse Mortgages Aren’t Much Different from Traditional Loans

As the name implies – in reverse of a traditional or “forward” mortgage, no monthly principal or interest payments are due on a reverse mortgage.  The loan accrues interest and other charges not due and payable until the last borrower permanently leaves home (12 months or more).

So, instead of paying a monthly payment to reduce the amount you owe on a loan, you receive funds from the loan (monthly, as a line of credit, in bulk sums, or a combination of some or all these options).  Your balance owed grows over time as you accrue interest and borrow money.

And while there is never a payment due on a reverse mortgage, there is also no prepayment penalty, so borrowers can choose to make a payment in any amount at any time without penalty but are not required to do so until the home is sold, or they permanently move out of the property.

However, the borrowers are still responsible for paying taxes, insurance, and the upkeep of their homes.  This is the same requirement as on a forward mortgage, and not paying these assessments is a default under the loan terms, so this is an important thing to remember.

How Interest Accrues on Reverse Mortgages

Interest accrues only on the money you borrow.  Reverse mortgage borrowers are approved for a maximum loan amount or Principal Limit, but how you take the money and how quickly you accrue interest under the program is entirely up to you.  The more money you borrow and the earlier in the loan, the more interest will accrue.  (Receive a free calculation here.)

Borrowers looking to leave the most inheritance to heirs should be looking to borrow as little as possible and spread that borrowing over time rather than take a large lump sum to draw at the beginning of the loan.

For example, borrowers who obtain a reverse mortgage under the payment option or the line of credit option but then do not draw large sums of money immediately or only draw a little now and then will not accrue interest as fast as those who take a lump sum draw on the entire amount.

This ensures that the least interest will accrue, and the balance will be the lowest possible when the loan is repaid.  Borrowers just looking to pay off an existing loan so that they can remain in their home, who have no heirs or no heirs to whom they are mindful of leaving their home, may want to be able to use the proceeds now to enrich their lives.

Either way, it is your home, equity, and choice.  Everyone must remember that property values will also significantly determine the equity left.  If property values continue to rise, it certainly helps ensure that there is equity to leave to heirs.

However, if values decline, just as if you had a forward loan, there would be less equity available to family members should you pass and have used all your loan proceeds.  But that is the intent of the loan – so that you can use your equity as you see fit.

If you do not need the funds to live, you can save the equity for future generations, but if you do, the loan will help you remain comfortable in your home without paying.

What Happens to a Reverse Mortgage After Death?

Many believe that the home reverts to the bank upon the death of the last borrower, but that is not the case.  After the passing of the last surviving borrower, the reverse mortgage loan balance becomes due and payable.  Your heirs can decide whether to repay the loan balance, keep the home, sell the house, and keep the equity, or walk away and let the lender dispose of the property.

If they choose to keep the home, they must repay the loan, either refinancing it with new financing or other available money.  They can repay the loan at the lower amount owed or 95% of the current market value.  If they wish to sell the home, they need to make sure that they take whatever steps are required (probate, trust certification, etc.) to change the title to sell the house.  We encourage borrowers to contact an estate attorney to be sure they are taking the property steps for their circumstances.

The lender will work with heirs, and if they are refinancing into a loan of their own, they will typically give them up to 6 months to close that loan or up to 12 months (6 months with two 3-month extensions) if they are selling the home.  During this time, the lender or the lender’s servicer will want to see the efforts of the family to sell, and this is where communication is essential.  Every 3-month extension may require evidence that the home is listed for sale on the MLS.

The lender has no desire to foreclose and sell the property independently.  Still, if the family is not attempting to sell the property and repay the loan, the lender must eventually step in to facilitate the repayment.  As with a forward mortgage, all remaining equity stays with the heirs when the loan is paid off.  If there is a shortfall in the amount owed and the home’s current market value, the heirs will own nothing, and the lender cannot look to any other assets to repay that money.  FHA will cover any losses, as all reverse mortgages are non-recourse loans.

Utilizing a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure on a Reverse Mortgage

If your heirs inherit a home with more debt than value (“upside-down”), they won’t have to pay any extra money owed on the loan.  In such cases, they might consider a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure.  This means instead of going through a lengthy foreclosure process, they can simply hand over the property deed to the lender.

It’s important to remember that a reverse mortgage is just a loan, and you have the power to decide who will inherit your home.  It’s best to plan these details ahead of time, while you can still manage your affairs. Consulting with an estate attorney beforehand is advisable.  They can help ensure your wishes are documented, preventing potential disputes among family members and saving valuable time that could be used for other important matters.

Reverse Mortgages are Non-Recourse Loans

Upon the sale of the property, all remaining equity belongs to the heirs, just as with a forward mortgage.  As we stated previously, a reverse mortgage is a non-recourse loan.  This means that if, with the combination of the accrued interest and current market conditions, the property will not sell enough to repay all amounts owed on the loan, the borrower’s heirs are not liable for any additional charges owed.

Borrowers pay for mortgage insurance to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), a division of The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which guarantees that the borrower will always have access to the reverse mortgage proceeds and that the borrowers’ heirs will never owe more than the property is worth on a bona fide sale to a third party or a Deed back to the lender.

The program does require a bona fide sale to a non-related third party; heirs cannot “sell” the home to other family members for less than is owed on the reverse mortgage, expecting the FHA insurance to cover any shortfall to the lender on the amount owed.  There are no restrictions on sales to family members or otherwise, just in the case of a balance of the reverse mortgage being higher than the value of the property and heirs wanting the lender to forgive the over-value portion of the loan and keep the property within the family.

Maintain Communication with Servicer

Heirs need to maintain communication as they do not have a set 12 months to dispose of the property after the death of the last remaining borrower… even though the lenders are only too willing to work with families who have a viable marketing plan for the property.  Lenders will have an appraisal completed by an FHA-approved appraiser to determine if the heirs’ expectations are reasonable.

Reverse mortgage lenders want something other than your home.  Lenders are most happy when the loan is repaid, and they do not have to become involved in foreclosure proceedings.  Still, the nature of the loan is the last loan you will ever need, and since most reverse mortgages do terminate with the death of the borrowers, foreclosure at termination is often the result when family members do not want to be involved in or have to wherewithal to repay the loan or sell the house.

Reverse mortgages become due and payable upon the death of the last remaining borrower or when the last borrower permanently leaves home.  Heirs and others are not entitled to continue living in the home after the borrowers are gone under the loan terms.  Reverse mortgages are not multi-generational loans.  If family members live with borrowers with reverse mortgages, the day will come when that loan must be repaid, and those family members must plan for that eventuality well in advance.

Borrowers must pay their taxes and insurance and maintain the property to stay within the reverse mortgage contract – the monthly mortgage payments of principal and interest that reverse mortgage borrowers will no longer have to pay if they live in their homes.

Loan Maturity FAQs

Q.

What happens if a person dies with a reverse mortgage?

When someone passes that has a reverse mortgage, the loan becomes due and payable.  The heirs or the estate must decide whether to keep, sell, or walk away and let the lender take the home to repay the debt.  In any case, the heirs or the estate will not need to pay anything they do not wish to pay if they do not want to keep the home, so the choice is entirely up to the heirs or the individual making the decisions for the estate.  The best action is to decide the heirs’ or estate’s goals.  If the goal is to retain the home, the heirs can repay the loan at the amount owed or 95% of the home’s current value, whichever is less.  Heirs should probably contact a senior real estate specialist in the area before they decide to walk away from any property to determine the home’s most probable selling price in its current condition.  If there is still equity in the home, heirs should take steps to transfer the title so that they can sell the home and retain the equity.  If there is no equity, they can remove all personal property from the home and contact the lender to let them know they do not wish to keep the home and either work with the lender to transfer the property to the lender with a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure or let the lender take the property in a foreclosure action.  Either way, the action has no bearing on the heirs, does not affect their credit, and the lender cannot look to the heirs for any repayments.

Q.

Are heirs responsible for reverse mortgage debt?

The loan is a non-recourse debt, meaning that the property is the only security the lender and HUD have for the loan.  If the heirs wish to keep the home, they must repay the loan or 95% of the current property value, whichever is less, but that would be their choice.  Heirs are never responsible for repaying the debt on a reverse mortgage.  They are never obligated to pay for anything on the reverse mortgage if they do not want to, and it does not affect their credit either way.
Q.

How long can you live in the home with a reverse mortgage after death?

This depends on your right to the property after the owner’s passing.  If you are the heir and are working to keep the home, you may have a longer period to remain in the home.  If you are a renter, other circumstances may come into play that would affect how long you can remain in the home.  If you do internet searches, there are stories of heirs and others who live in homes for years after the borrowers pass who had reverse mortgages.  However, you cannot count on this timeframe.  When that happens, something is not functioning correctly with the process or the servicer.  The lender usually finds out about the borrower’s death within just a few months of the borrower’s passing.  They will usually contact the heirs shortly after that event to determine their plans for the disposition of the loan.  If the heirs state that they want to sell or repay the loan and keep the property, the lender has specific steps they must take to determine the final payoff, which includes an appraisal.  If there is no contact or heirs are not specific, often the lender will proceed as though the loan will be repaid with a foreclosure action (where the lender must foreclose on the loan and then sell the property to repay the debt).  A foreclosure action itself takes anywhere from 5 – 6 months to complete from the time that the initial intent to foreclose is recorded at the county in which the property is located, depending on the state and the foreclosure laws.  Some states take longer and require the courts to be involved.  Therefore, the shortest time an occupant can live in a home after a reverse mortgage borrower has passed is about 6 months.  That is based on the lender’s quickest timeframe to get the home if they begin immediately.  If other heirs are involved, they may move to evict once they are the homeowners.
Q.

How long do heirs have to pay off a reverse mortgage?

Communication is critical, and the lender and HUD do not want to take the home; they want the loan repaid, so if you show them good faith, effort, and progress is real, they want you to succeed.  If you sell the home, the lender will work with you and give you extensions, usually in 3-month increments out to 12 months, if they can see that the house is being actively marketed and the time is necessary for your area.  If homes are selling and closing in 60 days, such a timeframe would not be warranted, and you may receive some pushback on a request for extensions.  However, if there was a probate or other title requirements necessary to sell the property and you keep the lender informed and are diligent on the process to sell, they will work with you.  The same is true if you are refinancing the loan with another lender.  If you need some time to have the title changed so you can close a new loan and you keep the lender informed of the process, they will work with you to allow you the time you need if everything is reasonable.

Q.

What is the reverse mortgage foreclosure timeline?

The timeline for a reverse mortgage foreclosure is the same as any other loan once the decision has been made to foreclose.  It depends on where the property is located and the laws in that part of the country, whether the area is a Deed of Trust state or a Mortgage state, and if foreclosures require a judicial foreclosure or can be conducted with a Trustee’s Sale.  But the process is that the lender sends you a notice that there is a breach in the loan terms, and as such, the loan is in default.  If that default is not cured within 30 days, the lender intends to file a foreclosure.  That breach can be a failure to pay your property taxes, failure to occupy the home as your primary residence, or the borrower’s death.  Some violations can be cured, some cannot, and when the breach cannot be cured (such as the passing of the borrowers), the lender would continue with the foreclosure process to repay the now due and payable obligation.  If the property is in a Deed of Trust State, the lender then records a Notice of Intent to Foreclose that they also must give to the borrower.  This gives the borrower notice that they intend to sell the property at auction at a specific date if the default is not cured.    At the end of this period, the foreclosure goes into an advertising period during which the borrower can still repay the loan in full but can no longer redeem the loan and keep the loan active by curing a curable default.  This is usually deemed the right of redemption if the default can be cured.  For properties located in Mortgage states, the dates and timelines are affected by the court dates.  At the end of the advertising period, the property is sold at a foreclosure auction by the trustee for a Deed of Trust sale.  Heirs would need to pay attention to the court summons and be sure to respond to any complaints in the applicable periods if they wish to object to the foreclosure, or the judge could authorize the sale of the home with a summary judgment.  Some states also have rights of redemption periods, so you need to verify with an attorney in your state if you are concerned with your specific circumstances.

Q.

Can heirs walk away from a reverse mortgage?

Heirs can always leave home with a reverse mortgage and owe nothing to the lender.  There is no concern with your credit; you never signed any agreement to pay anything, so you have no liability or credit concerns.  You may want to consider possible liability if you cancel all insurance, etc., and the estate still has considerable assets.  We recommend that you always check with your estate attorney.  The lender will order “forced placed coverage” on a property that would protect the dwelling in the event of a fire but would not cover contents or liability.  Since the property is still in the borrower’s or their estate’s name, we do not know, nor would we advise on the effect of any liability should someone get onto the property and become injured.  We always recommend you talk with your estate attorney to determine any concerns before you cancel insurance policies or let the property run down, dilapidated, etc.  We also recommend you speak with a senior real estate specialist before deciding to walk away.  These specialists often also work with estate sales professionals, and we have seen many examples where family members living out of state thought they had to let the home go.  The personal effects of the homeowner go because they were not in the area.  They connected with a senior real estate specialist who showed them that the home still had some equity and that they could arrange an estate sale of the personal possessions that the family either did not want or could not take.  The estate sale folks sold the personal property or donated anything left at the sale that netted additional money for end-of-life expenses, cleaned the entire house out as part of their agreement, and donated the remaining unsold items (the family gets the receipts for tax purposes).  The properties sold and netted the heirs some money, and the heirs were able to handle the entire process from a distance in most cases (not a lot in all cases, but some was better than walking away with nothing).  Heirs can walk owing nothing if the equity is not there, but making a few phone calls first doesn’t hurt.

Summary:

  • The bank does not own your home; the borrowers and their heirs (upon their passing) do.
  • Upon the death of the last remaining reverse mortgage borrower, the family has the right to keep or sell the property.  If the home is not worth enough to pay off the entire mortgage, the heirs are not liable for any shortfall on a bona fide sale to a third party due to the non-recourse nature of the loan.
  • Understanding the nature of the loan and the options available and then communicating with your heirs can make the entire process much easier for your whole family.

If you are an heir to a home with a reverse mortgage that’s now due, we recommend taking these as soon as possible.

Additional Resources for Heirs: