A billion? See you in court

Friday, Feb. 5
Posted 2 p.m. EDT

Same play, different actors. When an aging billionaire like retail mall developer Mel Simon changes his will a few months before he dies, it's almost a given that the family will show up in court to do battle over his estate. A public display of love, greed and secrecy among family members -- Shakespeare could have done it justice.

Mel Simon, courtesy of Associated Press
The Simon family is the latest of the big names to have it out in a legal slugfest. So let's run down the major players in this drama: The late Mel Simon, patriarch, is the co-founder (with his brother Herb) of Indianapolis-based mall developer Simon Property Group, and also owned the Indiana Pacers basketball team for 40 years. He died in September at the age of 82. His second wife, Bren, 66, is the sole trustee of his estate, worth over $1 billion.

The three chief beneficiaries of the estate are Mel's children: Deborah Simon, Cynthia Simon Skjodt and David Simon, currently chairman and CEO of Simon Property Group.

'Hastily prepared' will

This week, Deborah Simon filed a request with the Hamilton Superior Court to remove Bren as trustee and name a national bank or investment bank instead. She claims that her father, who suffered from cancer before his death, was so ill that he needed help in signing a "hastily prepared will" Feb. 13, 2009.

The previous estate plan had been in effect for a decade, according to the complaint. It called for Simon's assets to be divided into three equal portions: a third outright for Bren, a third in trust for his children after Bren's death (with her as sole income beneficiary during her life); and a third to various charities, with any remainder going to the children.

The new estate plan has Bren receiving half outright, with the other half in trust with Bren as sole income beneficiary.

Under the new will, charities could also suffer, according to an article in The Indianapolis Star. Mel Simon was a philanthropist who donated more than $150 million to charitable causes during his life. If Bren is not philanthropic, the donations could cease -- at least until her death.

Watch a video on the basics of estate planning.

Bankrate's guide: Estate planning for everyone.

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