The bodies of John and Ann Scarle were found in their UK home in October 2016, and authorities eventually found the couple had died from hypothermia.
To this day, nobody knows exactly how their deaths occurred — but now the fight for their £280,000 ($A509,000) house has taken a surprising turn.
Mr and Mrs Scarle had no children together, but both had offspring from previous relationships — and both sides of the family are now at war over the estate.
And because they both died at around the same time, the case could come down to a 100-year-old law.
Under the UK’s Law of Property Act 1925, the children of the person who died first could inherit nothing — while the lot goes to the other side of the family.
Mr Scarle’s daughter Anna Winter is claiming her stepmother died first — which would mean her father briefly inherited her share of the home.
As his next of kin, she would then stand to inherit everything.
However, her stepsister Deborah Cutler is arguing the opposite, claiming the “legal presumption” is Mr Scarle died first.
That would mean Mrs Scarle inherited her husband’s slice of the estate before she too died, and Ms Cutler and her brother Andre Farley were therefore entitled to the house.
The case — the first of its kind in decades — is being heard in the UK High Court.
According to The Sun, Mrs Cutler’s barrister James Weale said an exact time of death could not be determined.
“The most that one can do is speculate as to what might have happened,” he said.
“None of the experts were able to express any view as to even the approximate date — let alone time — of the death of either of John or Ann.
“As a consequence, such a determination is an inherently speculative exercise which involves weighing uncertain circumstantial evidence against uncertain pathological evidence.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Winter’s lawyer Amrik Wahiwala said Mrs Scarle died first “on the balance of probabilities”, based on the state her body was in when found.
John and Ann Scarle began their relationship in 1983 and bought their shared home in 1988, using proceeds from the sale of a property belonging to Mrs Scarle.
At the time of their deaths, Mr Scarle was 79, while his wife was a decade younger, although she had mobility issues after a stroke in 1998.
On October 3 or 4, Mr Scarle spoke with a neighbour, but neither were seen again until their bodies were discovered on October 11.
There was evidence the home had been ransacked by vandals or thieves at some point during that time period.
An opened card indicates at least one of the pair was still alive on October 7, which was their wedding anniversary.
CAN IT HAPPEN IN AUSTRALIA?
According to wills and estates special counsel Joanne Carusi from Barry Nilsson Lawyers, a similar situation could easily occur in Australia.
Although the law varies from state to state, when a person leaves their estate to their spouse or partner, that individual must usually outlive them by 30 days in order to inherit.
If they also die within 30 days, the estate then passes to the person who is next in line.
But when no will exists, and when a couple dies at approximately the same time — in a car accident, for example — the eldest is presumed to have died first in Queensland and some other states, meaning the beneficiaries of the youngest stand to inherit everything.
If that situation were to occur in Queensland, for example, stepchildren would not be recognised as beneficiaries — although they would be entitled to contest the decision under the Succession Act.
Ms Carusi said for that reason, it was “imperative” to have a will which clearly outlines how an estate is to be divided under a range of different scenarios.