A Hamilton County judge has banned distributions from the estate of the late Melvin Simon to his widow Bren or any other beneficiary without the court's approval.
Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes entered the order on Friday afternoon. It will stand at least until the court determines whether to remove Bren Simon as trustee of the roughly $2 billion estate.
The order specifically prevents Bren from taking distributions unless all interested parties give their consent. The judge on Thursday grilled attorneys for Bren Simon about her decision as the estate's trustee to advance herself $14 million to pay her legal team.
Hughes said state law requires a trustee to get approval from a court and trust beneficiaries before a loan can be given,
and “I don’t think there’s evidence" that Bren did that.
Michael Ciresi, a Minneapolis attorney who represents Bren, said he thought Indiana law gave his client the right to take the advance.
“It’s not whether it can be done,” Hughes responded, “it’s how it was done.”
Ciresi portrayed the mistake as “inadvertent" at the hearing Thursday, in which Bren's attorneys made final arguments to fend off a challenge from her stepchildren over whether she is fit to remain as trustee.
Bren did not attend the hearing in Hamilton Superior Court.
Attorneys for her stepchildren argued she is so incapable of serving as trustee of her late husband’s estate that she failed to take even the basic step of hiring a financial adviser to manage the fortune.
Specifically, attorneys for the stepchildren took aim at $500 million worth of Simon Property Group stock Bren has been trying to unload since her husband's 2009 death. The publicly traded company declined to immediately convert the ownership units into common stock that could be easily liquidated, citing a challenge to the will.
Attorneys for Melvin's daughter Deborah Simon, who attended the hearing, pointed out that the shares have increased in
value by tens of millions of dollars since then.
“Ten months after Mel’s death, there’s no financial manager, no diversification [of assets],” said Barry Simon, who is not related to the Simon family.
Deborah’s attempt to get Bren removed as trustee of the estate is part of an effort to challenge her father’s will. A jury trial in the case is tentatively scheduled for September 2011.