Judge: Bren Simon can take some distributions from estate

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A Hamilton County judge will allow Bren Simon to withdraw about $3.3 million per year of the estimated $43 million in annual dividend and interest income from her late husband's estate.

The widow of the late mall billionaire Melvin Simon will be entitled to a distribution of $125,000 every two weeks to offset the payroll expenses of her personal staff and the team that manages her homes, including Asherwood in Carmel, Judge William J. Hughes wrote in an order issued Oct. 27.

The withdrawals will later be charged against the amount of the trust she ultimately is due. The estate holds assets, primarily stock in Simon Property Group Inc., worth at least $2 billion.

"Distributions to Bren during the administration of the trust can be appropriate, but only if they occur in a manner that protects the trust and the interests of all beneficiaries," Hughes wrote. "A further consideration is that the amount of distributions this court can legitimately order must be based on record evidence."

Bren Simon's attorneys have said the biweekly payroll expense for MBS Associates is about $116,000.

The order, which specifies distributions must come from the estate's interest income and not principal, clarifies a July ruling in which Hughes banned withdrawals from the trust after Bren, in her capacity as trustee, distributed to herself $13 million from the trust's principal balance.

Deborah Simon—Melvin's daughter from a previous marriage—is challenging his will, saying Melvin was coerced into approving a new estate plan that dramatically increased the amount of his fortune going to Bren. She also wants her stepmother removed as trustee of the estate while the broader case is pending. (Click here for a July story on the dispute that includes video excerpts of Bren's deposition; the first of the four videos appears below.)

There is no provision in the trust allowing Bren to receive distributions before the trust assets are dispersed, but attorneys for Bren argued she should be allowed to collect all of the income from the estate during the court battle since she was Melvin's "object of greatest concern and solicitude."

Attorneys for Deborah did not dispute that point, but they argued Bren should get nothing until the judge sorts out the will contest.

Deborah contends that her father was suffering from dementia near the end of his life and didn’t understand what he was doing when he revised his estate plan, boosting the share of his fortune going directly to Bren from one-third to one-half. The changes also wiped out a portion that was to go to Deborah and siblings Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, and left charitable gifts stipulated in prior versions to Bren’s discretion.

Bren, who married Mel in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected his wishes.


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