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When Linda Couchot saw the fees adding up, she tried to convince her father to pay off his reverse mortgage. Before he could, Robert McCort died. 

That's when her nightmare began. Couchot and her sisters had to fight to keep the bank from foreclosing on their father's home in Jacksonville and eventually had to buy it back from the bank. 

Many reverse-mortgage borrowers think there will be money left over for their heirs when they die. Most are wrong.

They don’t realize that even though the initial loan was only a portion of the homes’ equity, the fees, servicing costs and interest accumulate on the loan, often leaving more owed to the reverse mortgage company than the house is worth. 

More: Reverse mortgages: 15,000 older Florida homeowners at risk of foreclosure and homelessness

More: Avoiding foreclosure on your reverse mortgage: Florida residents can get help

McCort, a retired master sergeant in the Army, had a “great income” and could have qualified for any type of loan, his daughter said. But on the advice of a relative in the banking business and backed up by the assurances of a TV ad, Couchot said, her father took out a reverse mortgage with Financial Freedom Acquisition.

According to court papers, McCort received around $400,000 to pay off the home's mortgage and $26,000 in cash. When he died July 5, 2016, his estate owed the reverse mortgage lender at least $718,691, almost twice the $374,763 value the Duval County property appraiser put on the house. 

The lender filed a foreclosure on the home and Couchot and her sisters ended up purchasing it for $403,000 in a short sale. They sold it nine months later for $560,000, according to public records.

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Often when a homeowner dies, heirs don't know the details of a reverse mortgage, said Darryl Wilson, a professor of law at Stetson University College of Law and chairman of code enforcement commission for St. Petersburg. Some children expecting to inherit might not even know there is a reverse mortgage, he said.

The children can pay off the reverse mortgage and get title to the home, but it can be, as Couchot found, that more is owed on the home than it's worth. 

Heirs now have the option of "cash for keys," said Steve Irwin, executive vice president of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. Instead of long and costly foreclosures after a borrower has died, lenders can offer heirs a cash incentive to sign over the home, he said.

Unfortunately, the regulations were changed in the last two years and aren't retroactive, so the option isn't available for older loans, Irwin said.

Couchot said it wasn't that she or her sisters wanted the home as a residence. For them it was more symbolic. They wanted their father's estate to receive something from the home he had built.

The court hearings and a nearly two-year fight to reclaim the home took a toll on her.

“I’ve never been able to grieve because I’ve had to deal with all this backlash and to fight for what is rightfully Daddy’s.”

More: Six steps advocates say would curb reverse mortgage foreclosure

More: Seniors were sold a risk-free retirement with reverse mortgages. Now they face foreclosure.

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