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Adoption by partner puts inheritance in limbo

Tue., Feb. 27, 2007

PORTLAND, Maine – 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 gay 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.

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.

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, 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, the family challenged the claim in probate court in Greenwich, Conn.

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 beyond that.

A judge ruled that Thomas Watson did not recognize Spado as his granddaughter and did not intend for her to benefit from the trusts.

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.

Spado has 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.


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