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How Elder Law Attorneys Can Become Key Reverse Mortgage Partners

For reverse specialists looking to build a referral network, local elder law attorneys can be a smart resource. These professionals work with seniors and their families to plan for long-term care needs, often helping them navigate their future housing options.

The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has 4,500 members nationwide, with a searchable database on its website. A spokesperson for the organization says it does not have an official position on reverse mortgages, but it does offer members exclusive access to webinars and other online resources about the product.

Piecing together the puzzle

NAELA president-elect Michael Amoruso, an elder law attorney based in Rye Brook, N.Y., says that his work requires him to find solutions to a client’s problem, and that a reverse mortgage can be a part of the answer.

“We’re trying to solve a puzzle for each client, and there are many pieces of that puzzle. One of them may be an insurance product; one of them may be a savings product; one of them may be an equity product like a reverse mortgage,” Amoruso says. “They all need to come together to solve a puzzle, which is about the client’s goals and objectives for their future.”

Jennifer VanderVeen, an elder law attorney based in South Bend, Ind., says it’s increasingly important for professionals in her line of work to be informed about the product.

“The public knows about them. You’re going to see them, you’re going to bump up against them. So you need to know what they are and how they work,” VanderVeen says, adding that many people assume that a nursing home is the only option for aging parents.

“You’re really not serving your clients well when they come to talk to you about how to plan for Mom or Dad’s nursing home care if you’re not giving them the full range of options,” says VanderVeen, who will serve as vice president of NAELA’s board of directors for 2017-2018. “Sometimes we have to put the brakes on clients and families and say: ‘Wait a minute, have you thought about how you can keep them at home?’”

‘Global’ perspective

Hyman Darling, NAELA president and a practicing attorney in Springfield, Mass., says he’s been recommending reverse mortgages to clients for years.

“Sometimes it’s really the only way that a client can maintain their independence, live at home, and cover home care or other services,” Darling says. “However, lately there has been much more information about the different benefits of reverse mortgages. It isn’t just about staying in the home.”

Amaruso says part of his job is helping the client determine when a reverse mortgage is a good choice.

“There are the right cases and the wrong cases for reverse mortgages, just like any other investment out there,” he says. “My job as the attorney is to explain, globally, some of the pros and cons of the reverse mortgage in the grand scheme of their planning process. Then they would meet with their financial advisor, who is independent from a mortgage consultant, to discuss whether that type of investment vehicle makes sense for them.”

Darling says that even though a reverse mortgage can be critical to solving a client’s problem, it can still be a tough sell.

“A lot of people have what we call ‘Depression’ mentality. They bought their home years ago and they couldn’t wait to pay off the mortgage, and I’m telling them they should put a mortgage on,” Darling says. “Some are not going to listen to me, and that’s okay. That’s their call. But I present it to them and I explain its benefit.”

“As long as they are presented with the options, they can make an informed decision,” Darling says.

Laying down the ground rules

In addition, Darling says having a connection to a local reverse specialist can be hugely beneficial to elder law attorneys.

“We need to know what we can and what we can’t say to a client,” he says. “We need to know what the rules are so we know what the law is. If someone would give us a refresher course or a cheat sheet every six months that I could keep in front of me — if we had just some more information — that would be very helpful.”

VanderVeen agrees, suggesting that reverse specialists reach out to chapters in their areas.

“Find out who the chapter leadership is and if they’re willing to let you speak at a chapter event that NAELA might be having in your state, or exhibit at a chapter event,” VanderVeen says. “That way you can really get to know the people in your area who are doing this work, and you can figure who the knowledgeable practioners are.”

Written by Jessica Guerin