Sam Simon is a co-creator and executive producer of the longest running scripted primetime show ever: The Simpsons. Simon, however, clashed with the other Simpsons' creators and left the show in 1993, after only four seasons. Co-creator Matt Groening called Simon and "brilliantly funny" but "unpleasant and mentally unbalanced." D'Oh!
In hindsight, Simon should also be described as a brilliant businessman. He negotiated to keep executive producer credits for the show and a share of The Simpson's profits each year, including the highly-lucrative home media distribution. So despite having left the show 20 years ago, Simon is still listed as an executive producer on each episode. And his profits keep rolling in, year after year.
Interestingly, Simon appears embarrassed by how much money he still receives -- tens of millions of dollars each year, as he's revealed in media interviews. He's said it's far more money than he could ever need. Because Simon is divorced, and has no children (although he is engaged), Simon says his family members are already well-taken care of and don't need his lucrative Simpsons' royalties.
So what does Simon want to do with all of his millions? To put it mildly, Simon is a very charitable person. He is prepared to donate almost all of his Simpsons royalties to charity.
And not just any charities. Simon is very particular about the charities he helps. He founded the Sam Simon Foundation (reportedly worth nearly $23 million as of 2011) to rescue stray dogs and feed the homeless, but only with vegan food. He has donated so much to PETA that the organization renamed its headquarters after him. Anti-whaling activists named their newest ship after him, for all of his help with their organization.
Sadly, Sam Simon was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in late 2012 and given only three to six months to live. While he has already beaten that estimate, and continues to do well, Simon nearly died. According to the Hollywood Reporter interview he recently gave, the colon cancer perforated his colon, almost killing him. He woke up in the hospital and realized that because he only had a will, it was time to do some serious estate planning.
Simon worked with consultants from the Rockefeller Foundation and set up one or more trusts, with some "fantastic trustees", Simon says. He is excited that the charitable trust he created will continue living after he's gone.
We can only hope that Simon continues to do well and overcomes his cancer. But in addition to teaching about his views of saving the environment, animal rights, and feeding the homeless, Simon can also teach about the importance of good estate planning.
Had he died with only a will in place, much of Simon's fortune would have been lost to estate taxes, probate court costs, and legal fees -- the same problems that are effecting the James Gandolfini estate. But by using more sophisticated estate planning, including charitable trusts, Simon can avoid all of that -- making sure that more of his fortune can be used to achieve his goals and dreams, rather than being wasted.
In a sense, Simon was lucky, at least in terms of his estate planning.
He could have ended up like another celebrity who broke an important estate planning rule, leading to a family fight. Who was that celebrity and what estate planning lesson can be drawn from both of their battles with cancer? Watch our latest Trial & Heirs video to find out:
By Danielle and Andrew Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.