Dear Harry:

I want to get our ducks in a row about reverse mortgages before we contact a bank and then get hounded to apply for a program if we decide we aren't interested. There are two big reasons that we're considering the reverse mortgage: to add to our income while we're alive, and to relieve our children of having to sell the house when we're gone. Are the fees substantial? Must they be paid in advance or can they be added on to the loan? Will we have to pay income tax on the money we get? Is there a problem if one of us dies and the survivor chooses not to live in the house? What happens when we're both gone?

What Harry says: The fees can be hefty. The legal paperwork can be very complex. Having a lawyer at your side is absolutely essential. Some lenders will allow you to put the fees into the loan; some will not. The money comes to you as a loan, not income, so there is no income tax due. There could be a problem if one of you dies and the other chooses to move. The documents tied to the loan should spell this out. Upon the last death, the lender will sell the property, and any excess of the proceeds over the loan will go to your heirs. Before you finalize a reverse mortgage, look into a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). This is less costly and will afford you the opportunity to borrow money against the equity in your home without all the hipper-dipper of the reverse mortgage.

Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19130. Harry urges all his readers to give blood: Contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-Red Cross.