Mel Simon, who died at age 82 in September 2009, left behind a huge estate tangled in litigation.   Mr. Simon was famous for building shopping centers – including the huge multi-use complex, Mall of America, located outside of Minneapolis, known as the U.S.’s largest mall.  Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion.

Mr. Simon was survived by a wife and children from a prior marriage.  He signed a new will and trust seven months before he died that drastically reduced the amount left to his three children and increased the amount going to his wife of 37 years, Bren Simon (37 years is a long time.)

Andrew Mayoras comments on the litigation at The Probate Lawyer BlogThe wars over the final wishes of Bill Davidson & Mel Simon:

"Deborah Simon, Mel’s daughter, filed the lawsuit a few weeks ago.  She claimed that Mel was ill from pancreatic cancer, dementia and neurological disorders which impaired his understanding and his ability to sign the new documents.   In fact, she says, he wasn’t even able to hold the pen or the documents to sign his name, and someone else had to move his hand for him.  Mel Simon

Mel’s wife, Bren, counters that the documents were valid.  Mel fully understood and desired to make the changes, she says, to protect his wife from his children, and because he wanted to compensate her for loss in value of company stock.  Bren admits that Mel needed help signing the estate planning documents, because he suffered from symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. 

As a probate litigation attorney who regularly handles will disputes and trust contests like these cases, I see these types of family fights affect people on a daily basis.  While millionaires and billionaires do seem to attract these legal battles more often (as covered in Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!), the reality is that they are also far more common than people realize, even for middle-class families. 

The exact same type of legal fights surface over estates worth hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands.  When a will or trust is changed and family members are cut out, or someone is convinced that a promise was made and not fulfilled, estate disputes are usually just around the corner. " 

Kris Hudson and Rachel Emma Silverman wrote about the case for the Wall Street Journal:

"The battle over Mr. Simon’s will joins a list of high-profile estate contests among the super-rich, involving accusations that a senior family member may not have fully understood what was at stake when signing estate-planning documents. For instance, in the recent case of society doyenne Brooke Astor, her son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted last year of defrauding his mother as she struggled in her last years with Alzheimer’s disease. "

For more commentary see Estate of Denial:  Simon Family Estate Dispute. and Juan Antunez’s Billionaire’s Will Sparks Family Fued:  Spousal Undue Influence?