Borrower Competency and Written Agreements
It’s a situation most loan officers who deal with older people will face at some point: while many elders may take awhile to come up with the word they want, or respond slowly to your questions, the borrower sitting before you appears to be either incompetent, or right on the edge. What do you do?
Since reverse mortgage professionals are not medical experts (generally speaking; there may be exceptions), you can’t really make a judgment call. For some, it may be a delicate balance between personal responsibility and earning a commission. So this begs the question: what is the best ethical — and legal — approach
Who holds the power?
Power of attorney (POA) is one solution. If a prospective borrower is deemed incompetent or incapacitated, their POA would be the one to sign the loan documents on their behalf. HUD has a provision for this situation, which occurs on a limited basis. The POA would sign their name followed by “POA”, and submit the supporting POA document with a letter of explanation to the underwriter.
The larger issue, of course, is what is in the best interest of the seniors you serve. Will the POA be able to help the homeowner / borrower to make a decision in the borrower’s best interest? Or should you decline to work with this prospect?
Will your concern for a senior’s well being matter more than an ill-chosen reverse mortgage? Or will the reverse mortgage make the crucial difference? This may be one of the most challenging moral and practical issues you face as a loan officer.
Putting it in writing
As you’re well aware, the lack of written agreements can cause strife among family members who go into business together — and even more so when those with blood ties decide to share housing.
In one disturbing case described by elder law firm Chronic Care Advocacy, a woman (who was mentally competent) claimed that despite investing substantial assets to build a mother-in-law suite in her daughter’s home, paying rent and utilities for more than four years, and assisting with the cost of installing a backyard pool, she was “kicked out” by her daughter and son-in-law.
Naturally, the daughter and son-in-law paint a somewhat different picture of events leading up to the lodging debacle. What’s most relevant here is: why did this situation end up in court? Family members make informal agreements among themselves all the time, and children often bring elderly parents into their homes when the parents are no longer able to manage on their own.
Family members also loan each other money. Without a written agreement, misunderstandings can later arise about repayment terms. When problems surface, so does stress, which can fracture family relationships.
Put such agreements in writing, urges Chronic Care Advocacy. Spell out:
- What each party will do. For instance, if a parent is planning to move into a child’s home, the agreement should specify whether the parent is paying rent or will only be contributing to household expenses.
- What else is included. Will the parent or other elder need transportation to doctors’ appointments, special meals, or medical equipment? If a caregiver becomes necessary, who will pay for this service?
- What nullifies the agreement. What circumstances would necessitate the parent leaving the home, e.g., a health issue that requires nursing care? What circumstances might allow a return?
Many times just writing down the terms of the agreement will spur family members to ask each other crucial “what if” questions. While it may seem overly formal to write everything out between family members, coming to consensus about how these issues will be handled at the outset is preferable to facing a crisis.
Whether a reverse mortgage client is competent or questionable, all seniors need to understand the importance of putting their choices and decisions in writing. In the end, the terms of an agreement can help keep terms of endearment intact.