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Simon says husband's shrinking fortune spurred new will

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Bren Simon says in a new court filing that her late billionaire husband Mel Simon granted her a bigger share of his fortune in the last year of his life because of alarm over Simon Property Group’s plunging stock price and a sharp cut in its cash dividend.

“The changes in the trust and will ... reflected an effort to compensate for the fact that income Bren Simon would have received annually under the previous estate plan had been enormously reduced and protection was needed from future events which might similarly restrict cash flow,” the filing says.

The explanation is contained in legal papers Bren’s attorneys submitted Wednesday in Hamilton County in response to a will contest filed Jan. 7 by her stepdaughter, Deborah Simon.

Deborah contends that Melvin was suffering from dementia and even needed help signing his name when he executed the changes in February 2009. Bren’s filing contends the changes reflected Melvin’s wishes and he understood what he was doing. It acknowledges he needed help with his signature but attributed that to "Parkinsonian symptoms" affecting his right hand.

The revised estate plan boosted the share of Melvin’s fortune going directly to Bren from one-third to one-half. It also wiped out a share that was to go to Melvin’s three children from his first marriage—Deborah, David Simon and Cynthia Simon-Skjodt—and leaves charitable giving to Bren’s discretion. The prior plan specifically earmarked one-third of the estate for charity.

Melvin Simon, who died Sept. 16 at age 82, co-founded Simon Property Group and was one of Indiana’s richest men. Forbes magazine in March 2009 estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion. Shares of Simon Property Group, his principal holding, have zoomed higher since, perhaps pushing the value of his fortune past $2 billion.

But early last year, when Bren claims discussions on revising the estate plan began, the nation was in the grips of the economic crisis, and investors had grown especially bearish about real estate companies.

To conserve cash, Simon Property Group announced Jan. 30 that instead of paying its 90-cent-per-share dividend entirely in cash, it would pay 90 percent in stock and just 10 percent in cash.

By the time Melvin signed the new estate plan Feb. 13, Simon shares were trading at $38, down 70 percent from the all-time high reached in 2007. The stock fell as low as $24 the following month before rebounding. Shares now fetch about $75 a share.

Bren’s 24-page filing says Melvin also sought to increase her share of the estate because he was concerned that his three children from his first marriage might not act in her interests.

“It had become apparent to Melvin Simon that the children might not be fair or equitable to Bren Simon if the children were left with the ability to impact Bren’s financial situation or business interests,” the filing said.

Bren, 66, who married Melvin in 1972, already served as executor of the estate and as the trustee of a trust that was part of the plan—roles that gave her broad authority over her husband’s fortune.

However, in the filing she complained that David Simon, CEO of Simon Property Group, rebuffed her efforts to become a director of a family holding company, a role that would have given her influence over underlying investments.

“In addition,” Bren’s filing says, “Melvin Simon had seen firsthand the stonewalling and piecemeal responses to attempts by Bren Simon and her representatives to gain pertinent documentation regarding the true value and interests of the estate.”

An attorney with Ice Miller representing Deborah Simon declined to comment on Bren’s filing.

According to Deborah’s lawsuit, last year’s changes were out of step with a comprehensive estate plan for Melvin that had been in place more than a decade. That plan divided assets into these three equal portions:

— One-third going directly to Bren.

— One-third placed in a trust, with Bren receiving all its income during her lifetime. After her death, the principal would pass to Melvin’s three children from his first wife, Bess, and to Bren’s daughter from her first marriage.

— One-third going to charitable trusts that were to donate tens of millions of dollars a year to local and national charities. Anything remaining after a predetermined period would go to Melvin’s children.

Under the new estate plan, Bren would receive one-half of the estate outright, and the other half would go into a trust, with Bren receiving all its income during her lifetime.

 

 

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  • Sound Mental State?
    My two cents. Mel Simon contributed a large portion of money to a center named for his first wife in 1995, the wife Brenda ousted while a secretary to Mel. He had originally designated one-third of his estate to charity. He was generous with his children. I can see why there's suspicion and animosity in the camp. Something smells fishy. The fact that the changes to his estate plan were made seven months prior to his demise after â??a short illness" for which Melâ??s brother asked for prayer in July is good reason to question Melâ??s sound mental state and the possibility of coercion at the time of the estate changes made in February 2009.
  • Not Just The Rich...
    This reminds me of an increasing problem. Today we are living longer than ever before. People should always do the estate planning despite how uncomfortable it may seem. We're not rich in my family but I am now learning how ruthless and greedy families are. I had a 25 yr agreement with my folks, paid them rent the entire time so I'd inherit a 2 family. My Father had Alzheimer's for 5 yrs. The entire time my Sister badgered him into changing his will. Finally 3 months before he died she conned him into giving away half my home. The whole episode makes me sick. With so many getting Alzheimer's and losing their memories, the devastation is brutal.
  • Simon
    I agree with the first will that Mel had. It seems more than fair to me. It sounds like she took advantage of him when he was at his weakest point before death. Greed is ugly. Look at what happened to Steven Hilbert because of greed. Take heed and beware of covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. For where your treasure is, there where your heart be also.
  • Shame on you!
    Shame on you Bren! Cruella Deville is a very fitting description.
  • Really?
    I TRULY hope you are kidding when you say "$5M really isn't that much after tazes". That's the Tim Durham line of thinking I guess. Bren comes off as a hack who was just waiting for Melvin to die and she feels she needs to be over-compensated for the "job" she put in for over 35 years. Disgusting. 1/3 of this fortune is an insane amount of money. And, if approached the right way, she would see even more. Give me a break....
  • One way to look at it.
    Doing the math, it appears Melvin had about 1.7 million shares in the company he co-founded. With a 90-cent divided, that's about 15 million a year in income. A third of his estate (570,000 shares) would have netted about 5 million a year in income. With a dividend of $0 per share, the estate nets $0 per year. So she would have had to tap into the capital by selling off her shares to live on. Crazy.

    Basically I can understand someone's reluctance to tap into their capital reserves (shares) to fund a lifestyle. Given the choice, I think we'd all prefer to live off of dividends. And, realistically, 5 million a year isn't that much after taxes.

    The change in will was ill timed at an incredibly low point in the economy, but the reasoning seems sound to me.
    • 7 deadlies...
      Looks like she about has them covered...Sounds like a good screenplay for a Disney flick...ie Cruella Deville. Look out charitable recievers in Indianapolis...The kids didn't have a "Little Dog too" did they?
    • Simon says
      Even in death Ruth Lilly continues to be generous and giving.

      In life the Simon woman continues to be greedy and grasping.
    • what does it take?
      This drama is wonderful in its tawdriness.

      We have no idea what the actual cash amount is, that Mel's stock and investments throw off for Bren, but in any scenario it should be more than sufficient to support even the most extravagant lifestyle.

      The players in this drama are not the "Waltons" family...but Bren WAS married to the old guy for more than 3 decades.

      She might be advised to not invest in any more plastic surgery lest a smile negate the last tuck.
    • Shoddy Reporting
      Greg,

      Perhaps you should actually read the article before writing the headline. Mel Simon's assets actually increased by 20% last year and certainly not a shrinking fortune. Mel's fortune was held in Simon Property Group stock but the dividend has been slashed which effects the amount of income Bren will recieve. A temporary dividend cut does not translate into a headline that screams shrinking fortune.
    • Simon
      If she was going to screw the children, she should have at least given them something to make it look realistic. Unbelievably greedy on her part! Money sure can corrupt people.
    • Simons
      It's apparent Bren Simon didn't trust the children to let her have all that was coming to her. Who is to say Mel felt the same way?
    • Whatever!
      Bren can't live on a third of 1.3 billion? Really? When so many people are out of a job and scrounging just to put food on the table, does she have to get greedy?

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