The COVID-19 crisis has caused huge disruptions for businesses as well as individuals. Regardless, important transactions must carry on, including those that require notarization.

Traditionally, notarization has required in-person meetings. Banks and UPS Stores have been a reliable,
low-cost option for most people. Nowadays, however, it can be difficult to know their availability and precautions against coronavirus.

Some customers have been trying to find in-person notaries themselves through sites like 123notary.com, Notary Cafe, and Yelp. Even so, it can be difficult to gauge a notary’s experience and skill level, not to mention the safety precautions the notaries might or might not be taking.

A better option might be hiring a nationwide notary agency. Most mobile notaries, such as Notary 247 and NSS Notary, are optimized for real estate. That is because every time a house is financed or transferred, a notary must sign off on the transaction. Others might focus on a different niche. For example, N3 Notary specializes in I-9 verifications for remote employees.

Other notary agencies might focus on working with lawyers on matters related to immigration and corporate law.

Discerning clients might opt for a concierge notary experience from a company like TheBestNotary.net which provides provides high touch notary consulting to client-focused, estate planning law firms. We provide excellent customer service, manage the complexities of remote online notarization and in-person appointments in the age of COVID while providing instant online booking appointments, live status updates, and clear, upfront pricing.

RON Zooms Into the Spotlight with the Rise of COVID

Regardless of which option you choose, you have to consider the risks involved with in-person meetings in the age of COVID. Luckily, more and more states are making exceptions and authorizing the use of remote online notarization (RON). RON is also referred to as e-notarization, electronic signature notarization, and virtual notarization.

RON utilizes audio-video technology for notarization through a remote video conference between the notary and the document signer(s) instead of the traditional face-to-face meeting. No physical documents of any kind are signed and there is no use of the physical notary journal to capture the signature of thumbprint of the document signer.

How RON Works​

While the exact process and the requirements for RON vary state by state, the general process is as follows.

  • The document signer uploads the documents to the RON platform.
  • The platform authenticates the signer’s identity and documents using a valid ID and credit history.
  • The signer joins a two-way audio-video conference with a notary and digitally signs the documents.
  • Both parties receive a copy of the notarized documents. A copy of the documents and audio-video conference is stored in the notary’s records for up to 10 years depending on the state.

 

Legality of RON​

  • Remote Online Notarization is legal to anyone with a means to prove their identity and an active online video internet connection anywhere in the world.
  • There are no restrictions whatsoever on consumers having their documents notarized online, anywhere in all 50 states.
  • 27 states have officially empowered their notaries to notarize documents online as of 7/22/2020. A list of these states are available here.
  • The key distinction about the legality of RON comes into question based on where the individual notary is physically located (not the document signer) and whether the notary’s home state allows notaries commissioned in that state to notarize documents online.
  • In the states which have not yet empowered their notaries to notarize online, document signers have the choice to select and work with a notary who is physically located in one of the 27 states (as of the time of this article) where notaries have a certification process which authorizes them to notarize signatures online through a video connection.

Jeremy Ofseyer of the Law Office of Jeremy Ofseyer is a graduate of the Harvard Law School (magna cum laude 1990), and certified as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. In the webinar below we recorded for the CEB, he discusses the acceptance of remote online notarization across state lines with Eli Angote, Founder and CEO of TheBestNotary.net.

 

YouTube Video

 

Case Studies & Examples​

Graciela

Kwame

Susan

Peter

Mohammed
  • Graciela who is signing a power of attorney in California can meet with a Virginia notary over Zoom and have her documents notarized while having an iced latte on her patio.
  • Kwame in New York can meet with a notary in Texas for a grant deed to sell his property.
  • Susan who is physically located in Hawaii can connect with a notary who is residing in Nevada to sign a trust certification using the DocVerify Notary platform.
  • Peter is a Minnesota resident who is traveling in Shanghai, China. He can get his estate planning documents notarized by an attorney in Virginia over Skype video.
  • Mohammed, stationed in a military base in South Africa, can meet with a notary in New Jersey to sign an affidavit regarding a legal matter in Washington, DC.

 

What Documents Can be Notarized Online?

Here is a small sample of the documents that can be notarized online using RON. The only limitation is whether the person or entity (governmental or financial institution)

  • Custodian certifications of passports and birth certificates
  • Powers of Attorneys
  • Grant Deeds
  • Affidavits
  • Trust Certifications
  • Healthcare Directives
  • Letters for Traveling Minors
  • Account Opening Documents
  • 401K Rollover Documents

 

Best Practices for a Successful Remote Online Notarization

To experience a smooth RON (Remote Online Notarization) session, please make sure all the parties understand and meet the following requirements:

  • ​The signer understands that the party who will receive their documents will get copies and not ink-originals with wet signatures
  • The signers have a computer with a working video camera and microphone
  • The signer has the latest version of the Chrome browser installed
  • The signer has a high-speed internet connection with at least 2MB/s of bandwidth
  • The signer is over 18 years of age and has a valid Driver’s License or an ID card
  • The signer has at least 3 years of credit history for KBA (Knowledge-Based Authentication) via their credit reports
  • The signer is willing to submit a US address and the last 4 digits of their SSN securely for the ID proofing above
  • The signer has patience and time to spare in case of technical difficulties as RON is still in its infancy

 

In a clip from the CEB webinar, Jeremy Ofseyer discusses remote online notarization and deed recording with Eli Angote.

YouTube Video

 

A Brief History of RON

RON has been around since 2011 when Virginia became the first state to allow its commissioned notaries to notarize documents remotely using audio-video technology. Having paved the way for identity verification standards, document execution technologies and the recording of the notarization ceremony, other states slowly started to follow Virginia’s lead: Montana in 2015, and Nevada and Texas in 2017.

Due to the impact of COVID on businesses around the country, on March 18th, 2020, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced the bipartisan Senate Bill 3533, the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020 (the “SECURE Act”). This bill would allow every notary in the United States to perform remote online notarization (RON) using audio-visual communication and would establish the minimum requirements for doing so. These requirements would include using multi-factor identification processes to prevent fraud and demonstrating when the document has been tampered with. This law has not yet been passed and even if it does pass soon, it may take a while for it to be implemented in each state.

Note: This bill would allow notarization of most documents but does not include wills or trusts.

As of January 2020, before Coronavirus, only 13 states allowed their notaries to provide RON to their signers. Due to COVID, other states started to issue emergency measures allowing RON on a temporary basis. The list of states who allow RON has been changing daily and as of this writing, there are currently 27 states that officially allow this technology on a permanent basis and some of these states added temporary regulations to allow more flexibility. Only California and South Carolina continue prohibit notaries in their states to complete notarizations online under either permanent or temporary authorizations. For the latest information on this quickly changing situation, see this article from the National Notary Association. It is imperative for people to check the specific laws in their states because the details vary dramatically.

 

 

Remote Notarization During COVID –Source (as of August 4th, 2020)

The State of Affairs in a Few Select States

The US states who have authorized RON on a statutory statewide basis or on an emergency basis have varying recommendations and requirements. Here is a summary of what some states are currently struggling with as they try to implement RON:

California

Notarization has been deemed an “essential service” and therefore in-person meetings are allowed. Using RON is a bit more complicated as California notaries have not yet been empowered to notarize documents online. However California state law specifically California Civil Code Section 1189(b) recognizes the validity and acceptance of documents notarized through RON in any other state as long as it is performed in accordance with the state’s laws California. California has had several bills proposed to allow RON permanently and temporarily in California, but they have not been successful in becoming law.

The California Secretary of State previously stated on their website that “California citizens who wish to have their documents notarized remotely can obtain notarial services in another state that currently provides remote online notarization. California Civil Code 1189(b) provides that any certificate of acknowledgment taken in another place shall be sufficient in this state if it is taken in accordance with the law of the place where the acknowledgment is made.” While this guidance has been removed from their website, the validity of the California Civil Code Section 1189(b) is still in effect.

Special attention needs to be paid to wills which still cannot be signed electronically in the state of California. A work around can be a hand written (holographic will), which eliminates the need for two in-person witnesses. Therefore, execution of estate planning documents by California residents can be done via RON with the help of experienced consultants such as TheBestNotary.net who can facilitate a seamless process notarization experience. We will even coordinate electronic deed recordings throughout the state of California, sometimes in as little as 24 to 48 hours after the RON appointment.

New York

Although New York does not yet permanently allow RON, Governor Cuomo issued an emergency executive order in March 2020 which temporarily allows remote online notarization (RON) until September 4th, 2020. To qualify, the signer must meet very specific criteria including the following: The signer must be located in the state of New York, be able to present a valid ID (if the person is not personally known to the notary) during the live video conference (i.e. no pre-recorded videos), and submit the document to the notary on the same day that it is signed. The notary must print and sign the document, in ink, and may not use an electronic signature to officiate the document. The document can then be sent to the signer to complete. The signer can sign electronically as long as the notary witnesses the signing. New York has other very specific requirements that are important to review before having a New York notary completing a RON.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts passed an emergency bill in April 2020 to allow Remote Ink-signed Notarizations (RIN). This process is different from RONs in that the signer physically signs the document, in ink, and sends it electronically to the notary who prints and signs the document, in ink, before returning it to the signer. This law only allows these notarizations to happen if the notary and the signer are both physically in the state of Massachusetts.

Acceptance of RON Across State Lines

According to this white paper by the National Notary Association, thirty-six states have a statute similar to California’s (see above) and honor documents completed in another state. Fifteen of them (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont) have no limitations on these statutes and allow all documents completed in another state to be valid within their state. Other states only consider the notarization valid if it is completed in compliance with the laws of the jurisdiction where the act was performed. Since every state has different laws, it is difficult for the average consumer to know the exact requirements and compatibility across states. The lack of consistency can create unnecessary confusion, waste precious time, and potentially jeopardize a notarial act.

Other Challenges of RON

  • Having the time, resources, and energy to sort out the details and learn all the different laws and requirements
  • Knowing for sure whether the receiving party with accept a digital copy
  • Having a long enough credit history to get through the qualifying security questions on the RON platform
  • Concerns about data privacy and security while using a new technology
  • Finding a notary who is RON-certified, and who has time and expertise in using RON. At this time there is no current, centralized, searchable database for independent RON enabled notaries.
  • Not being able to vet a notary’s attention to detail, professionalism, and experience with RON, which may result in errors, delays, and/or denials of the documents

In a third clip from the CEB the webinar, Eli Angote discusses the importance of choosing a partner to help navigate the complexities of remote online notarization.

YouTube Video

 

Major RON Platforms​

At the moment, there are three major platforms with on-demand Remote Online Notarization (RON) services: Notarize, NotaryCAM, SIGNiX, and DocVerify.

Notarize

Notarize is an on-demand notary platform that is available 24 hours a day. For individuals, the first stamp costs $25 and each additional stamp costs $10. Businesses need to pay $99 per month and then $25 per notarization. For real estate, it is $249 per month and then $99 per closing. Individual real estate closings and trust documents are unavailable at this time.

NotaryCam

NotaryCam is an on-demand services and is available 24 hours a day and the wait time averages 45 minutes. For individuals, it costs $25 per notarization within the US and $79 per notarization outside the US. Businesses have to fill out a form to get a custom quote. During one of our test signings, there was a significant back-and-forth email process that took about 30 minutes and occurred outside of the platform, requiring constant monitoring of email. There was also no interpersonal interaction with the notary before the process began and thus it was not possible to ask clarifying questions. Questions could only be asked once the process started and after paying the fee.

SIGNiX

SIGNiX is a notarization platform where document signers have to find the notaries individually on various notary directories that were mentioned earlier. The cost to the customer is often $25 for the first notary seal with the price of the additional seals negotiated with the notary. The notary has to prepare the document for signature.

DocVerify

DocVerify is another document signing platform that is popular with independent notaries, but does not allow customers to contact the notaries directly or schedule an appointment. Customers can create an account in DocVerify and search their database so that they can find a notary that might meet their needs.

RON Platform Caveats

No matter which of the platforms above you choose, you’ll need to be comfortable with technology and do your due diligence before, during, and after a RON session. These options are good for people who are tech savvy, understand notarization law, and are willing and able to prepare their own documents.

The preparation of documents can be very time consuming, complicated, and confusing depending on the length and complexity of the document. For example, some estate plans can be over 200 pages and require up to 25 to 40 signatures, 40-50 initials and 10-15 notary blocks.

During several of our test sessions with on-demand notary companies like Notarize, NotaryCam, SIGNix, and DocVerify, the notary did not review the document thoroughly, missed notarization blocks, and also misspelled the signer’s name.

 

How TheBestNotary.net Can Help

For over 10 years, we have been providing premier notarization consulting to companies of all sizes globally.

In the wake of coronavirus, TheBestNotary.net continues to provide in-person appointments while doing everything we can to help keep people safe, including instituting COVID screening of notaries and clients. We also screen notaries through video interviews to make sure they have strong communications skills including empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution.

We are now helping our clients navigate the complexities of Remote Online Notarization with a focus on estate planning which has very unique challenges during these turbulent and uncertain times. Please let us know how we can support you with your notary needs by booking a consultation so we can help you create convenience and peace of mind for your busy clients.

Disclaimer: Any information provided by TheBestNotary.net on this website or in conjunction with a request for service does not constitute legal advice in any way. Please consult an attorney before signing any legal document. A notary public can only attest the identity of a document signer and cannot assist with the selection of notary certificates.