Ruling May Bolster Claim to I.B.M. Fortune

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by Katharine Q. Seelye
New York Times

July 24, 2009

The Maine Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an adult same-sex adoption by a descendant of the founder of I.B.M., with a share of the multimillion-dollar fortune at stake.

The ruling may bolster the standing of the adoptee as she pursues her claim in Connecticut to what she says is her share of the family fortune.

But the case may have fairly limited implications for other adult adoptees, said Michael P. Koskoff, a lawyer in Bridgeport, Conn., who represents the adoptee, Patricia Ann Spado. Ms. Spado was adopted by Olive F. Watson, a granddaughter of the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr., in 1991. They became involved in 1979.

The purpose of adult adoptions was often to establish financial security and inheritance rights for same-sex partners, long before any states had legalized same-sex marriage.

“Now that same-sex couples can get married, adoption would not be the method of choice to establish a legally binding relationship,” Mr. Koskoff said.

Maine is one of the few states that allowed adult adoptions when Ms. Watson, who was 43 and owned a home in Maine, adopted Ms. Spado, then 44.

They broke up less than a year after the adoption. But Ms. Spado has claimed she is a legal grandchild of Mr. Watson and a beneficiary of his trusts because she is Ms. Watson’s daughter.

In 2005, two trustees of the Watson trusts challenged the adoption. They said that Ms. Spado had fraudulently claimed to be living in Maine and that the adoption violated state policy prohibiting adoptions involving same-sex couples. A probate court ruled in 2008 in favor of the trustees, annulling the adoption.

But on Thursday, the State Supreme Court vacated that order, saying that there was “insufficient evidence of fraud” and that the trustees had not proved a violation of policy. Moreover, the court noted, Ms. Watson herself opposed the annulment.