By Kathleen Gilbert

PORTLAND, Maine, July 28, 2009 ( – The Supreme Court of Maine on Thursday declared that the adoption of a former lesbian lover by IBM heiress Olive Watson was valid.

Watson is the daughter of Thomas J. Watson, Jr., who is the son of the founder of International Business Machines (IBM).  Two trustees of the Watson estate, Thomas Watson III and George Gillespie III, had argued the adoption was fraudulent.

Adult adoptions have historically been recognized as a means of conveying inheritance rights, although some states prohibit the adoption in cases clearly outside the context of a parent-child relationship.

In 1991, Olive Watson legally adopted Patricia Spado in Maine, where the couple used to vacation in the summer.  Their attorney had advised them to procure the adoption in Maine, where there was no bar on same-sex adult adoption, in order to avoid the prohibition in their home state of New York.

The pair ended their relationship one year after the adoption.  The subsequent deaths of Thomas Watson and his wife, the latter of whom died in 2004, opened the funds of the Watson family trust to be divided among his grandchildren.  The following year, the two trustees convinced a Knox County Probate Court that the adoption constituted a fraud and that Thomas Watson did not consider Spado his granddaughter.   

But the Supreme Court struck down that ruling, saying that Maine's residency requirements for adoption were not specific enough to rule out the couple, who vacationed there.  Therefore, the adoption was in compliance with Maine state law.

The Court also rejected the trustees' claim that the adoption was invalid based on a policy prohibiting adoptions involving same-sex couples.  While applicable prohibitions entered Maine law after 1991, the court said they could not be imposed on the case retroactively.

While the ruling is likely the final word on whether the adoption is legal, the matter of whether Spado is entitled to any of the Watson fortune will fall to a court in Connecticut, where the trust is amenable to suit.