By BLAIR WILLIAMS

Like most people, when I turned 70 I started thinking about my mortality. Given my family history I reckoned I probably have maybe 15 years to live, so it made sense to think about what I and my wife, Jeannie, might pack in to those years.

Of course, we wanted to share experiences we knew we would enjoy. The simple pleasures of retired life: gardening, time with friends, long postponed trips, community work.

Above all this, we wanted to have quality time with our family – especially with our grandchildren – while we were still able to enjoy it. We wanted to do it for our own sake, but we also wanted to create lasting memories for those children and, in some small way, help shape their values for the rest of their lives.

So we decided we would spend $10,000 a year for the next 10 years on family activities, in particular on shared activities with our grandchildren. To do that we would have to find $100,000 — like most people our age, we don’t have that kind of cash lying around.

We decided to place a reverse mortgage on our property, the main source of our net worth, which will constitute most of our estate when when we die. It made sense to use some of that equity now to add value to our lives and to those of the people we love the most, rather than have it liquidated and given out to our beneficiaries in one lump sum after we are gone.

A reverse mortgage allows a property owner to receive cash – up to 40 percent of the value of the property – without having to make immediate repayments or be burdened by a repayment schedule during his or her lifetime. The cash is advanced, the interest accrues, and the mortgage is paid off at the time of death or when the property is sold.

Over the past 40 or 50 years, growth in property values has consistently outstripped interest rates on funds that are advanced under the mortgage. In other words, it is reasonable to believe that a home that is worth, say, $300,000 today will be worth something like $600,000 in 10 years, so that over the 10-year period, the cost of a $100,000 mortgage with accrued interest may be significantly less than the increase in value of the home.

Of course, our beneficiaries will receive less after we’ve gone. But the ones we love the most are benefiting from that money now.

The Home Equity Bank, the only company that currently does reverse mortgages on a large scale, advanced us $100,000, phased over a 10-year period. We don’t have to worry about it in our lifetime. It’s hard to see any calamity that would cause us to regret this move.

So, how is it working out? In our first year, we have done a number of gratifying things. Last Easter we flew our granddaughter, Lauren, from Ottawa to Calgary to be with us and her aunt, uncle and cousins for the holiday. This summer we took all available grandchildren — those who were old enough — to see the Broadway production of The Lion King at the National Arts Centre. We took the entire family to lunch and to see the animals running free in Omega Nature Park in Quebec. This fall, we took our two oldest grandchildren, Erin and Jesse, to New York City for a long weekend of fun. Most recently, we took grandchildren Tyler and Lauren to Montreal for dinner, overnight and breakfast with their cousin Erin who is at university there.

In addition to these, a number of spur-of-the-moment family lunches and dinners have exhausted our 2011 budget. It has been all that we had hoped.

In the coming year we’re planning a trip abroad to spend time with our oldest son, his wife and their children who are going to Australia for a year. Beyond that, whatever funds are left will be spent at home doing the things that matter most to us and, we hope, to our children and grandchildren.

Whether the increase in the value of our property pays for this plan or not, has become irrelevant. The time we have spent with our grandchildren and the joy these events have given us have been priceless. We are spending our children’s inheritance now and loving every minute of it.

Blair Williams is a retired academic who lives on a small acreage in eastern Ontario. He continues to be active in his community and church, participates in local, provincial and national politics, writes extensively and supervises with joy the activities of his wife Jeannie, his four children and nine grandchildren.