Tess Mackey, Virginia Sea Grant Correspondent
Sean Smiley enjoys the analytical thinking necessary for a successful legal career. One of the most fascinating aspects of the law, he says, is the different approaches and variables that lead to “things not necessarily always having one right answer.”
As a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic this fall, Smiley will work for the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) to address issues with inherited property in the face of sea level rise. Many rural communities in Virginia have a number of properties that will be heavily affected by sea level rise in the coming years. If the property owner dies without a will, all of his or her descendants will collectively inherit the real estate in question. In these situations, families may be left without a title or the financial means to establish who has ownership of the property.
“I’ve really been focused on the ground level research,” says Smiley, “how ownership is passed down in these properties.”
Smiley will write a white paper outlining the resources available for these families to seek legal ownership of their property, and the long-term options that local government and the MPPDC have for planning and offering assistance to property heirs if changes in sea level make these properties uninhabitable.
Smiley completed his undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he double majored in English and history, with a concentration in Eastern Europe and the history of science. He is a second year law student at the William & Mary Law School, where he runs the Quiz Bowl team. Smiley hopes to pursue a career involving resource management, land use policy, and other environmental issues resulting from human influences.