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Analysis: Simon factions make peace as tax hike looms

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Widow Bren Simon and her stepchildren finally managed to set differences aside and settle a dispute over the estate of mall magnate Melvin Simon.

One goal that apparently united the survivors: Limiting Uncle Sam's take of a fortune that has swelled to nearly $3 billion.

The timing and secretive nature of the settlement, which a Hamilton County judge endorsed Dec. 12, suggests the parties are scrambling to facilitate the transfer or sale of assets before 2013 arrives with expected higher tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

Following the settlement, family holding company Melvin Simon & Associates Inc. announced plans to sell 3 million shares in Simon Property Group Inc., a stake valued at more than $460 million based on recent trading. The estate's trustee may be orchestrating similar sales of the estate's privately held investments.

The fortune at stake has swelled in size since the legal battle began in January 2010, four months after Melvin died at 82. The legal fight turned nasty at times, exposing a long-simmering fued between Bren and her stepchildren.

But with a larger pot of money to share among family members and charities to which Melvin had pledged gifts—and the looming tax hike—the parties found sufficient common ground.

“Your enemies can become friends when the IRS is in the middle,” said Joseph A. Clark, managing partner at Anderson-based Financial Enhancement Group and an adjunct professor at Purdue University. "The Simons have been shrewd their entire lives."

Estate taxes are set in stone based on the year of death, Clark noted, but capital gains taxes are assessed based on rates in the year an asset is sold.

The estate process has its tax advantages: Assets can be marked at their fair-market value at the time of death or nine months later, meaning heirs aren't on the hook for capital gains going back years.

However, in the Simon case, the assets have appreciated significantly since Melvin's death. That's a good thing for the beneficiaries: There's more money to go around. But it also means a higher tax bill.

Take for instance the 3 million shares the family said it plans to sell. The estate’s basis in the shares is not public, but if the shares are marked at their value on Melvin’s death, the estate could be sitting on a capital gain of more than $250 million on those shares alone.

There’s no telling exactly where the capital gains tax will wind up, but Clark expects it will rise to about 25 percent from the current 15 percent. That means by selling in 2012 instead of 2013, the Simon estate could save about $25 million in taxes. Even for the Simons, that’s a lot of money.

The Simon estate isn't the only one trying to liquidate assets by New Year's Eve.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett agreed this week to buy back $1.2 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock from the estate of a shareholder. The move, designed to save the unnamed estate millions in taxes, drew howls of protest from Buffett critics who pointed to his advocacy for higher taxes on wealthy folks.

Clark said he's advising on three estates that hope to liquidate before the tax increase, and has assisted clients on issuing special dividends from their privately held businesses in advance of the deadline. He noted bank deposits have swelled to record levels. Of course, those dollars are pretty much useless as long as bank interest rates remain near zero.

Even if Congress and President Obama manage to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, taxes on capital gains and dividends are almost certain to rise. For those who earn more than $250,000 in combined wages and investment income, that includes a 3.8 percent surcharge on investment income to pay for the Affordable Care Act.

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  • Almost 40 years of marriage
    and Debbie Simon still thinks she should have inherited what was rightfully Bren's. Mel would be rolling over in his grave. I don't notice Steve acting this way toward Herb's wife, the beauty queen despite her popping out some more kids. If Mel wanted to leave his money to his dog, that would be his wish. To leave his fortune, during the credit collapse, to the wife who loved him for almost 40 years was HIS business.
  • Estate taxes
    Wish I was either a stockbroker or realtor or CPA or estate attorney right now!!!!!!!!
  • The end of the year scramble
    Get used to people selling out right now. This is what we voted for and this is what we get! Good luck America, we're gonna need it. My prophesy: the lower and middle class are going to suffer more from this push by the president to take money from the rich than any other single agenda by any other president in the history of this country. I hope I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure I'm not. In the mean time watch the rich remove their money from our economy. Here we GO!

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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