mortgage

You're never too old for a mortgage

Add inflation or an adjustable rate to the equation, and an income squeeze becomes an even greater risk. Rising property taxes, living costs or interest rates can make a mortgage quite uncomfortable for seniors who have fixed incomes or who want to protect their assets for their heirs.

"If five years down the road, the economy goes in the toilet and interest rates go bananas, then (a mortgage) that made sense at one time now doesn't make sense," Halloran says. "If a mortgage could erode their wealth because of a change in interest rates, I wouldn't advise it."

One more risk is fraud. Foreclosure rescue scams, inappropriate reverse mortgages and bogus home improvement refinancings generally grab the headlines, but any type of loan can expose an elderly person to financial abuse.

A recent MetLife Mature Market Institute study of media reports about elder financial abuse found that petty cons and purse snatchings were common crimes against elderly people. But there were also plenty of instances in which caregivers, handymen, friends, supposed sweethearts, adult children, lawyers and other trusted helpers "seized upon opportunities to forge checks, steal credit cards, pilfer bank accounts, transfer assets and generally decimate elders' financial safety nets."

Generation gap

Adults might wonder whether their elderly parents have a mortgage, especially one secured by a childhood home or house that's perceived as family property. But Given says older people typically don't share such information about their economic situation with their family.

"It's a generational thing," he says.

More often, sons and daughters discover these late-in-life mortgages only after parents die. At that time, Given says, a real estate agent can help them sort out how much the property is worth and how much is owed. Oftentimes, he adds, daughters and sons "don't have a clue."

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