PORTLAND, Maine -- A legal case in which the daughter of an
Olive F. Watson legally adopted her longtime partner, Patricia A. Spado, in 1991 in probate court in Rockland. Watson is the daughter of the late Thomas J. Watson Jr., who was the chief executive of IBM from 1956 to 1971.
At stake is a multimillion-dollar trust fund, the Maine Sunday Telegram reported. The case also raises questions about whether same-sex couples can use Maine's adoption laws to establish legal rights, including inheritance, which are denied to them because they can't marry.
The relationship between Spado and Watson ended in 1992, and their adoption resurfaced in Maine in 2005 when a lawyer for the Watson family trust filed a motion to annul the adoption. A judge granted the motion on a technicality.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last week overturned the ruling and sent the case back to Probate Judge Carol Emery with instructions to judge the case on its merits.
The dispute is scheduled for a pretrial conference in Knox County Probate Court on Feb. 7. Another dispute is pending in a court in Connecticut, where Thomas Watson died in 1993.
Adult adoption is legal but rare in Maine. It sometimes occurs when an adult child wants to take the name and formalize a bond with a stepparent the person was raised by, or to create a path for inheritance between unrelated people.
That was apparently the case when Olive Watson legally adopted Spado 16 years ago. At the time, they were in their 40s and had been together for 14 years.
After they separated, Olive Watson eventually paid Spado about $500,000. Watson's lawyers say the money was intended to release the family from any rights Spado would have gained through the adoption. But in court filings Spado produced a letter signed by Watson shortly after their breakup that said she would not initiate any action to annul the adoption.
The case took a turn when Olive Watson's mother died in 2004. Upon the elder Watson's death, her 18 grandchildren became eligible to receive income from two trusts until they turned 35, at which time they would receive the principal outright.
But a few months later, a lawyer representing Spado notified the trust that Patricia Spado was also entitled to a share of the trust.
The claim was successfully challenged by trustees in a Connecticut probate court. They argued that Thomas Watson knew Spado as his daughter's lover and that he did not intend her to benefit from the trust. The decision is being appealed in the state's superior court.
In Maine, trustees filed a petition in 2005 seeking to annul the adoption on the ground that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to grant the adoption because Spado didn't live in Maine; at the time of the adoption, Spado and Watson were vacationing on North Haven, where Watson owned property.
The trustees further argued that Watson and Spado never intended to establish a normal parent-child relationship because they were engaged in a same-sex relationship and had obtained the adoption to financially benefit Spado.
Through their lawyers, Spado and Watson declined to comment to the Maine Sunday Telegram. The lawyers also declined to comment.
But in court documents, Stephen Hanscom, a Rockland lawyer who represents the Watson family, argued that it would be a public policy disaster to let the adoption stand. He said it would have been illegal in New York and Connecticut.
Advocates for same-sex marriage told the newspaper that gay and lesbian couples probably would not pursue adoption in any state because the arrangements do not always work as intended.