Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Maine Supreme Court Rules Lesbian Partner Adoption Valid

Maine Maine's Supreme Court recently held that a woman's adoption of her lesbian partner is valid and thus, the adopted woman is family for inheritance purposes.  Adoption of Patricia S., 2009 ME 76 (Maine July 23, 2009).  The adoptee, Patricia Spado, was the partner of Olive Watson, the daughter of the late Thomas Watson, Jr., an IBM tycoon. 

The history of the case is as follows:

  • In 1991, Olive Watson adopted her same-sex partner, Patricia Spado.  By doing so, Olive made Patricia her "child" so that she would be able to inherit from her upon Olive's death.
  • In 2004, Olive's father's widow died triggering trusts which provide distributions to Olive's father's grandchildren.  Patricia, as an adopted grandchild, is claiming that she is entitled to a share of the trust.
  • However, the relationship between Olive and Patricia is no longer harmonious and Olive's family is attempting to set aside the adoption by claiming that the proceeding was somehow fraudulent, e.g., that Patricia lied about her state of residence or that she deceived the court about the adoption by not telling the court about her sexual relationship with Olive.
  • This case is receiving national attention because the family consists of the descendants of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of I.B.M.
  • On April 24, 2008, a probate judge granted the family's request to annul the adoption on the residency issue.
  • On appeal, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that residency is not an issue and that the adoption is valid.
  • A Connecticut court will now have to determine if Spade is entitled to any inheritance.

Terry L. Turnipseed (associate professor, Syracuse University) offered the following commentary on the issue:

Yesterday, in a long-running inheritance dispute, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that an adult adoption of a same-sex partner was legitimate.  The dispute mostly surrounded a very large trust set up by one of the founders of IBM for the benefit of his descendants and whether the adoptee-lover of a descendant could gain a share of the trust (worth huge bucks).  The Court said she was indeed part of the trust beneficiary class.

This adoption was one of two case studies I used in my latest article to show why someone might wish to adopt one’s lover or spouse.  States go both ways in allowing the adoption of an adult lover or spouse.  Despite its liberal leanings, for example, New York State, by common law, currently does NOT allow adult adoption of lovers or spouses, though the cases have flip-flopped over time.  Most states do, however

If anyone is interested in knowing more about this quite fascinating subject, please feel free to download my article on SSRN.  The article looks at multiple angles on this story, including the distinct possibility that in about half of the states, the adoptor could be prosecuted for incest resulting in serious jail time (which has occurred on many occasions in many states in the past) and whether Lawrence now protects this behavior.

Terry Turnipseed's article is entitled Scalia's Ship of Revulsion has Sailed: Will Lawrence Protect Adults Who Adopt Lovers to Help Ensure their Inheritance from Incest Prosecution?, 32 Hamline J. Pub. L. & Pol'y 95 (2009).

See also AP, Maine Court Upholds IBM Heir's Adoption of Lesbian Lover, Fox News, July 23, 2009.


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