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One of the hallmarks of estate planning is the use of terms of art in legal documents. Terms of art are often encountered in a will or revocable trust. This article will discuss the Latin phrase “per stirpes” and related concepts in the context of estate distributions to beneficiaries.

A. Per Stirpes. The term “per stirpes” literally means “by roots or stocks.” In the context of a disposition in a will or trust, the term is frequently used, for example, as part of a distribution to “surviving descendants, per stirpes.” The term is defined in New Jersey law as follows:

If a governing instrument requires property to be distributed “per stirpes,” the property is divided into as many equal shares as there are: (1) surviving children of the designated ancestor; and (2) deceased children who left surviving descendants. Each surviving child is allocated one share. The share of each deceased child with surviving descendants is allocated in the same manner, with subdivision repeating at each succeeding generation until the property is fully allocated among surviving descendants.

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A recent decision from the Morris County Chancery Division, Probate Part, serves as an important reminder to not only think about the final disposition of your remains, but to communicate those thoughts to the significant people in your life. In an unpublished opinion, In the Matter of the Estate of John E. Travers, Jr. (New Jersey Superior Court, Morris County, Docket No. P-2253-2017, 2/19/2019) (hereinafter “Travers”), the Court addressed the question of who may control the disposition of a decedent’s remains when the decedent has not expressed his intentions in this regard. The Travers case contained no significant legal principles, nor did it break new ground in the estate planning field. It did, however, highlight the importance of specifying the person who should be in charge of your final arrangements and the disposition of your remains.

In this case, Mr. Travers was 22, single and had no children. He had no will and had made no direction regarding his funeral or the disposition of his remains. He was survived by his mother and father, his closest blood relations. His parents were divorced. His father felt strongly that Mr. Travers should be buried, and his mother thought he should be cremated. This disagreement took them to the Superior Court of New Jersey, where the Chancery Judge was called upon to decide the question.

The Court began its inquiry with an examination of the New Jersey law that allows for the appointment of a funeral and disposition representative. New Jersey Statute 45:27-22 provides that a decedent may specify who is to be entrusted with funeral arrangements and the disposition of bodily remains. See N.J.S. 45:27-22.a. This direction must be in a will. Id. If the decedent has not left a will that includes such an appointment, the statute sets forth the order of priority of the persons entitled to control the funeral and the disposition of remains as follows: (1) the surviving spouse or civil union or domestic partner; (2) a majority of the surviving adult children; (3) the surviving parent or parents; (4) a majority of the brothers and sisters; (5) other next of kin according to the degree of relationship with the decedent; and (6) if no next of kin, any other person acting on a decedent’s behalf. Id.

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Industrial hemp has a long and rich history throughout the world. This is largely because hemp is dynamic and can evolve into products such as clothing, animal feed, building materials, bio plastics, biofuels, paper, fiber and food. Hemp seeds, or grains, are smooth and about one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch long. Hemp seeds can also be used to make a variety of products for industrial and cosmetic use. Of particular interest in New Jersey are the agricultural benefits associated with the hemp plant. Hemp has been known to kill weeds, thereby negating the need for herbicides on crops. Hemp also can absorb metals in the soil thereby acting as a natural filter, mitigating sediment runoff, through which eroded soils carry nutrient pollution into water resources.

Given its multipurpose capabilities, it is no surprise that Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (“2018 Farm Bill” or “Farm Bill”). Section 297A of the Farm Bill defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” The Farm Bill effectively decriminalizes hemp by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. The Farm Bill also expands the commercial cultivation of hemp beyond the limited state-approved pilot programs, legalizes hemp production in US territories and on Indian tribal land and authorizes the coverage of hemp as a commodity under crop insurance.

Because hemp is no longer viewed as a controlled substance, the Drug Enforcement Agency has been removed from oversight and replaced with United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). As such, the USDA exercises primary regulatory authority over hemp production. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (“NJDOA”), the USDA intends to issue regulations in the fall of 2019 for states that wish to submit hemp production plans. These regulations will address requirements for testing the THC levels of hemp and address disposal of hemp plants and products produced that contain more than .3% THC.

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Spring 2019 has been a busy season for New Jersey’s Cannabis Industry. On May 23, 2019 the New Jersey Assembly approved proposed revisions to the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act that would effectively expand the state’s existing Medicinal Marijuana Program. The following week the Senate passed the bill 33-4.

May 31, 2019 saw the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) hold its first public hearing to assess the safety of CBD products. In opening remarks, Acting Commissioner of the FDA, Ned Sharpless, acknowledged that hemp derived CBD in food products is unchartered territory for the Agency. As such, in order to carefully evaluate potential pathways for CBD products, the FDA has formed an internal working group to address concerns such as how much CBD is safe for daily consumption, CBD’s combined effect if used both topically and orally and potential dangers to children should they consume a CBD edible.

On June 3, 2019, the New Jersey Department of Health announced that it is seeking new applicants to operate up to 108 additional Alternative Treatment Centers (“ATC”): Up to 38 in the northern region of the state, up to 38 in the central region, and up to 32 in the southern region. Three types of endorsements will be available for ATCs: cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary. In total, the Department will seek up to 24 cultivation endorsements, up to 30 manufacturing endorsements, and up to 54 dispensary endorsements. Permit application forms for ATCs will be available on July 1. Applications are due August 15.

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Most clients do not want their lawyers to inherit their property. Yet sometimes the plans they desire to put into place are simply asking for that to happen. Litigation is expensive, and many states permit the attorneys’ fees to be paid from the trust or estate assets before anything is distributed to the beneficiaries. In addition, these proceedings are often lengthy and emotional, something that few wish to ever endure, and especially not after the death of a loved one.

Often trust and estate litigation can be avoided by careful planning. Thus, it is important for practitioners to recognize “red flags” during the planning process and to know how to advise their clients so that their estates are not settled in the courtroom, with the lawyers being the only ones walking away with full pockets.

Unequal distribution of assets amongst children

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In April 2019 Litigation Practice Chairperson Jay Lavroff participated as a panelist on a webinar hosted by AMBest which discussed the ways in which social media is changing insurance claims.  In the hour long discussion, Jay addressed issues surrounding social media’s use in litigating insurance claims including how social media data for trial is obtained, issues concerning admissibility in court and how the rules of professional conduct address social media.

You can watch the AMBest webinar here.

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Elizabeth Candido Petite an associate at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper in Westfield joined a team of community leaders to provide ongoing pro bono legal assistance to the Other Fellow First Foundation during its quest to raise money for twin brothers Edward and Edwin Roman, 24, of Summit, both diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.

You may read the full New Jersey Law Journal article here.

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Despite the rapid growth of the cannabis industry, banks have been reluctant to provide financial services to cannabis-related businesses. Banks and other financial institutions fear that providing financial services to those in the cannabis industry could violate federal criminal laws and financial regulations such as “The Bank Secrecy Act” (“BSA”) and the “Money Laundering Control Act” codified under both sections 1956 and 1957 of title 18, of the United States Code.

In an attempt to create protections for banks that wish to provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers, the House Financial Services Committee voted on March 28, 2019 in favor of H.R. 1595, commonly known as the “Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019” or “SAFE Banking Act”. The revised version of the bill will now advance to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

The SAFE Banking Act would provide a “safe harbor” for banks that provide financial services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses, specifically: (1) prohibiting federal banking regulators from terminating or limiting deposit insurance of the bank; (2) prohibiting or discouraging banks from providing financial services to such a business; (3) recommending, incentivizing, or encouraging a bank to not offer financial services to such a business; or (4) taking adverse or corrective supervisory action on a loan made to a person solely because the person owns such a business or owns real estate or equipment leased or sold to such a business.

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On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed and enacted Senate Bill Number 2773 , which clarifies the definitions of Health Care Service Firms and Homemaker-Home Health Aides. The bill was primarily sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and was unanimously passed by the New Jersey Senate and Assembly. According to Senator Pou, “[t]his bill will ensure that all firms acting as health care agencies for our elderly, including the ones using the Internet to arrange and provide companions or health care services are properly registered. We need to ensure that adequate care is provided with registered and qualified caregivers at all times.” Health Care Service Firms are closely regulated by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Part of the regulation provides that these firms are required to provide comprehensive training, supervision and oversight to their caregivers who must be directly employed by the firm. In May 21, 2018 New Jersey passed legislation requiring Health Care Service Firms to become accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the New Jersey Department of Human Services and to submit to an audit conducted by a certified public accountant.

The recently enacted bill revises the previous law to clarify that any firm, company, business, agency or other entity that is not licensed by New Jersey as a Home Health Care Agency or Hospice which employs, places or arranges for the placement of or in any way refers an individual to provide companion, personal or health care services in the personal residence of a person with a disability or who is 60 years old or older, must register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs as a Health Care Service Firm. The bill further stipulates that the Division of Consumer Affairs is authorized to take enforcement measures upon any person who operates a firm that is subject to this Health Care Service Firm registration requirement, whether the operations include the direct employment of individuals, the use of an Internet website or application, or any other process or business model.

In addition, the bill imposes a penalty of $500 per day, for each day that the person continues to operate a firm without registering as a health care service firm as required.

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UPDATE: “The much-anticipated vote, tentatively scheduled for Monday afternoon in both the General Assembly and the state Senate, was called off when it became clear there were not enough votes in the Senate to pass it.”  Read full coverage at ROI-NJ.com

Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senator Scutari, and Assemblywoman Quijano announced last week that they have reached an agreement concerning the legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana in New Jersey.

While the proposed legislation will likely be released in the coming days, this is what we know so far based on pending Senate Bill S2703.

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