Sara and Ralph, a couple in their late 70’s, were perusing the newspaper one Sunday when they saw an advertisement about nursing homes and long-term care costs that grabbed their attention. The ad, which was placed by a lawyer, claimed that their home could be sold at auction and that they could be left homeless and penniless if they did not take action. The ad caused Sara and Ralph to fear losing their home and savings. It used scare tactics and preyed on their emotions and potential vulnerabilities.
While it is true that good estate planning techniques can protect assets, including the home, from the cost of long-term care, ads like the one that frightened Sara and Ralph violate the Aspirational Standards of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (MassNAELA).
MassNAELA is an organization of Massachusetts elder law attorneys working to assist elders, as well as elder law attorneys, as they navigate the maze of long-term care options. We encourage seniors and their family members to be leery of such ads using worst-case scenarios and scare tactics regarding the costs of long-term care. MassNAELA’s Aspirational Standards regarding marketing and advertising urge all elder law attorneys to do the following in advertising and marketing:
• Consider the potential for marketing to educate the public and to promote the profession of elder law; • Prepare or disseminate only marketing communications that are truthful and do not include statements that are false or misleading in any material respect; • Take into consideration the intended audience for any marketing communication and, in particular, the potential vulnerability of that audience to undue influence; • Ensure that no materially false or misleading information is communicated in connection with a seminar, presentation, or similar activity; and • Accurately describe legal concepts, procedures, programs or techniques in all marketing communications.
MassNAELA encourages high standards of technical expertise and ethical awareness among its members and all attorneys who practice elder law in Massachusetts, but we cannot “police” long-term care advertising. We can only inform and educate. The consumer has the power to choose whether to respond to such advertising.
Choices involving long-term care and planning are difficult and there are no “one size fits all” answers. It is important for seniors to consult with a reputable elder law attorney who can provide honest and complete advice on nursing home costs and planning options available in a particular situation, and to realize that if an ad uses scare tactics that cause anxiety, they should not take the bait. Responsible attorneys will not make you feel rushed, bullied, or unnecessarily fearful.
PLEASE help us to educate the public about unethical advertising. Share this message with everyone you know – especially those who are the intended target of such advertising.