ST. LOUIS — The heirs of the late "Wizard of Oz" actor Mickey Carroll have sued his caretaker for control of his assets.
The 89-year-old Carroll, one of the last surviving Munchkins from the beloved 1939 film, died Thursday at his caretaker's home in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood.
Four months before he died, Carroll signed papers turning over control of his assets to caretaker Linda Dodge. Relatives estimate he left an estate of more than $1 million.
They claim that Dodge and others took advantage of the actor in the throes of dementia and that he wasn't competent to sign the papers.
Dodge denies the claims, calling the disagreement a "family squabble" and the allegations "foolish."
"If I were taking so much money, why are we still making car payments?" Dodge said. "And payments on my credit cards?
"I took care of a friend," she added. "That I treated like a family member."
The family has asked a St. Louis County probate judge to freeze the assets and appoint a caretaker for them. The eight heirs, which include Carroll's niece, Janet L. Finocchiaro of Dallas, claim that "unscrupulous agents" have put the assets "in imminent danger of continued dissipation, waste and theft."
Carroll lived in Bel-Nor in north St. Louis County for more than 60 years.
Dodge, a longtime friend of Carroll's, said she became his caretaker in January when he needed help. She moved him into her and her husband's Crestwood home. She also took in Carroll's 54-year-old nephew, Frank Parenti, who's in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and had lived with Carroll.
Dodge still takes care of Parenti.
Five days after moving in with Dodge in January, Carroll — whose real name was Michael Finocchiaro — signed a durable power of attorney transferring control of his investments and assets to Dodge.
He signed a second durable power of attorney for health care. This gave Dodge authority to make medical decisions if Carroll became incapacitated.
Carroll's niece, Janet Finocchiaro, says in the lawsuit that she was concerned about her uncle's health. She recently made a hot line complaint to the state of Missouri in which she said Carroll was the victim of "elder abuse." She claimed she saw her uncle with his face bruised and feet swollen.
The niece also questioned why Carroll had been moved from his home, where she says he was comfortable, and into a single room with his nephew in Dodge's house.
The lawsuit says a doctor sent by state health officials to examine Carroll in April found him incapable of doing simple tasks or calculations and unable to recall events in his life. The diagnosis was that Carroll had suffered years of advanced dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Family members allege in their lawsuit that Dodge was purposely keeping Carroll away from them and spending his assets. They also claim Dodge kept money Carroll made from appearing at events for Dodge's "purposes."
Patrick J. McCarthy, attorney for the heirs, estimates in the lawsuit that Carroll's income was about $100,000 a year from promotional work and Social Security. Carroll also had checking accounts totaling about $300,000, a $500,000 account with Merrill Lynch and a home assessed at $132,000.