Melvin Simon was one of the richest men in the Midwest until he died last year, at age 82. A co-owner of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, he built most of his fortune developing and owning shopping malls. His assets have been estimated to be worth close to $2 billion. That vast fortune is tied up in a nasty legal battle over his will and trust, as explained in this prior article of The Probate Lawyer Blog.
Like many second-marriage situations, the widow, Bren, does not get along with the Mel Simon's children from a prior marriage (to say the least!). And they aren't too fond of Bren either. The children, led by daughter Deborah, sued because Simon signed new estate planning documents seven months before he died, raising Bren's inheritance from one-third up to one-half, at the expense of the children.
Why did the kids challenge this (other than the obvious)? For one, they claim Mel was so sick from cancer, dementia and neurological disorders that he couldn't even hold his pen when he signed the new will and trust.
The lawsuit alleged he was mentally incompetent and that Bren exercised undue influence to coerce the estate planning changes. The lead plaintiff, Deborah, also claimed Bren committed fraud.
The problem was that Deborah's attorneys didn't include enough details about the alleged fraud, and the Court threw the claim out at the request of Bren's lawyers. Well, they asked for more details, and Deborah and her legal team were all too happy to oblige.
They re-filed the fraud claim with a host of new specifics about what they think Bren did wrong, including:
- screening all of Melvin's calls and lying to Deborah when she called to talk to her father;
- ordering Melvin's assistants to stay away from him if he didn't do what Bren wanted, which isolated him from the outside world;
- swearing and yelling at her husband, calling him vulgar names;
- badgering and belittling him; and
- signing Melvin's name to financial documents, including some that authorized tens of millions of dollars to be transferred into her name.
Of course, Bren wouldn't take these allegations lying down. Her lawyers recently fired back with a new filing aimed back at Deborah and her attorneys.
Perhaps trying to turn the tables, they claim that Deborah "rummaged" through her father's papers when Bren was away, stole important documents, and violated Melvin's right to keep his medical records private by conspiring with a male nurse who gave Deborah and her attorneys important records about Melvin's condition from the last few months of his life. They asking for sanctions to be imposed against them for discovery abuses in the lawsuit.
Bren's team also responded to Deborah's new allegations, calling them "vile."
Well that certainly is a good word to describe how ugly this lawsuit is getting. But, it's not unusual. Wealthy or not, many families fight when a loved one passes (especially in second-marriage situations like this one).
Children from a prior marriage may not get along with a newer spouse, but both sides can often hold their emotions in check until the loved one dies. Then emotions can really begin to boil.
Throw in changes made to a will, trust or bank account, and things often get ugly in a hurry.
What do you do if your family is facing a possible battle like this one? Talk to an experienced probate litigation attorney and learn your legal rights.
Or, you can educate yourself. Here's a good place to start.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.Follow us on Google+