In their 14-year
relationship, Patricia Spado and Olive Watson spent only
five nights apart. They lived in New York, spent summers in
Maine, and shared the more practical pieces of a life
together--a home, a joint bank account. But in a
time long before civil unions or same-sex marriage,
Watson wanted to ensure that her partner would be taken care
of when she was no longer there. So, at a small
courthouse in coastal Maine, she adopted Spado.
Fifteen years later, the adoption is being
challenged in courts in Connecticut and Maine as Olive
Watson's family parcels out the family
fortune--and contests their newfound heir. The case,
according to gay activists, is rare and offers an
example of how far same-sex couples have gone to
attain financial and inheritance protections that married
couples take for granted.
''It shows what people are driven to when they
don't have access to marriage and the conventional way
of forming a family,'' said Mary Bonauto, an attorney
with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the
Boston-based group that won the legal battle that introduced
same-sex marriage to Massachusetts.
At stake is a
share in multimillion-dollar trust funds that Olive
Watson's father, Thomas Watson, who built International
Business Machines into today's IBM computer colossus,
set up for his grandchildren. He died in 1993, unaware
of the adoption. His wife, who died in 2004, apparently
learned of it from her daughter.
With the deaths
of both parents, the trusts'
beneficiaries--grandchildren, at least 18 of
them--became eligible for cash payouts at age 35. But
when Spado's lawyer notified the trusts that she was a
potential beneficiary as a legal granddaughter, the
family challenged the claim in probate court in
Greenwich, Conn., where Thomas Watson lived at the time of
Spado and Olive
Watson aren't together anymore. They separated in 1992,
and while Spado received about $500,000 from Watson, there
is nothing in court records to show any arrangement
A judge ruled
that Thomas Watson did not recognize Spado as his
granddaughter and did not intend for her to benefit from the
trusts. ''It is reasonable to conclude that Watson
intended to benefit only those grandchildren who had a
typical parent/child relationship with his children,''
Judge David Hopper wrote.
The size of the
estate has not been estimated in court documents, and
principals in the case did not respond to requests for
comment. Lawyers for Spado and Watson also did not
respond to questions about the case.
appealed. In the meantime, the family trusts are trying to
have her adoption annulled in Maine, where they would
have to prove deception or fraud.
Briefs filed with
the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which heard an appeal
on a technicality, indicate that the judge who approved the
adoption never knew that Olive Watson and Spado had a
New York, where
the couple had been living at the time, barred the
adoption of a gay partner, but Maine had no such
restriction. Nor did it have a provision like
Connecticut's that prohibits a person from adopting
someone older--Spado, 44 at the time, was a year older
than her adoptive mother.
Maine adoption law required that the adoptee had to be
living in the state, and the two sides are at odds on
whether spending part of each summer vacation on
Maine's North Haven island met that requirement.
The couple met in
1978 while Spado was working in Los Angeles. Watson
rented a residence in California in order to be with her
lover, who later abandoned her career and moved with
Watson to New York.
They held joint
bank accounts, owned real estate together, and exchanged
durable powers of attorney and health care proxies. Watson
amended her will to name Spado as sole beneficiary.
breakup, Watson paid Spado the $500,000 settlement in
exchange for relinquishing her claim to certain real estate.
But the settlement was apparently not intended to
terminate Spade's right to her inheritance as a
According to a
court brief filed by Spado in Maine, a letter signed by
Watson shortly after the breakup confirms ''our agreement
that I have not and that I shall at no time initiate
any action to revoke or annul my adoption of you.''
(Jerry Harkavy, AP)