Battle breaks out over Mel Simon fortune

A long-simmering Simon family feud went public as members of one of the city’s most prominent families battled in a Hamilton County courtroom over the $2 billion estate of mall magnate Melvin Simon.

In one corner: Melvin’s widow, Bren. In the other: Melvin’s three children from a previous marriage, led by Deborah Simon.

The drama began in early January, when Deborah claimed in a court filing that Bren had coerced Melvin to make changes to his estate plan in February 2009, seven months before he died at age 82.

Deborah contends Melvin was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand what he was doing when he signed off on the plan, which boosted 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 her two siblings from Simon’s first marriage—Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Simon Property Group Inc.

Bren claimed in court filings that the changes to the will reflected Melvin’s desire to compensate her for a drop in the company’s stock price and a reduction in the cash dividend.

The company in 2010 restored its dividend and by year-end the share price had surpassed its two-year high.

A pivotal moment came in mid-December when Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes ordered Bren removed as personal representative and interim trustee over the estate, replacing her with a retired justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The judge cited Bren’s decision to distribute $13 million from the estate to herself without notifying other trust beneficiaries, a move she later recast as a loan, albeit one without an interest rate or repayment schedule. Among Bren’s other questionable decisions: paying her attorneys more than $3 million from the estate without the court’s approval, and moving to convert more than $600 million ownership units in Simon Property Group without appropriate professional advice, the judge wrote.

“The record herein is replete with examples of conduct by Bren Simon justifying her removal in both capacities,” Hughes wrote in the order entered Dec. 15.

Attorneys for Bren argued she served capably as executor and trustee of the estate of her late husband, pointing to a series of moves she has signed off on, including the transfer of her husband’s stake in the Indiana Pacers and moves to appraise the value of a vast array of holdings.•

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