Two step-sisters are locked in a High Court battle over their inheritance following the death of an elderly couple.  

John and Ann Scarle, who both had children from previous marriages, were found dead from hypothermia at their home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, in October 2016.

However, it is unclear who died first.

Under the Law of Property Act 1925, the family of whoever survived longer is set to inherit the £280,000 house – while their step-siblings will receive nothing.

The law has not been used since the 1950s, but was invoked in a high-profile case during the Battle of Britain in 1940, after a Chelsea family was wiped out by a bomb.

Mr Scarle’s daughter, Anna Winter, believes her father, who was fitter, probably survived longer and would therefore have briefly inherited his wife’s share of the house. The court heard the couple bought their home in 1988, using the proceeds of the sale of Mrs Scarle’s previous house.

Despite being 10 years older, Mr Scarle was his wife’s full-time carer after she suffered a stroke around 1998.

But Deborah Cutler, daughter of Mrs Scarle, says the “legal presumption” is that her stepfather, being older, died first, meaning that she and her brother, Andre Farley, should get the house.

Mrs Cutler’s barrister, James Weale, told the court: “None of the experts was able to express any view as to even the approximate date – let alone time – of the death of either John or Ann.”

Judge Phillip Kramer has reserved his judgment until a later date.