A notary public is one of those professions you might rarely think about until you need one. And every now and then, you do.
A notary public is an individual recognized by the state as an impartial witness to the signing of documents, attesting to their authenticity and verifying the identities of those signing. Notarization is usually required for documents that are officially filed, such as deeds, title transfers, mortgage notes, liens, and court cases.
When you require the services of a notary, you might call someone you know. Or you might visit your bank or credit union. If you’re buying or selling real estate, a representative from the title company will usually come to your home and notarize your closing documents.
In a time of social distancing, not all of those options are available or advisable. Banks, for example, might be limiting their business to auto tellers only. You might not be able to find a notary willing to come into your house, or maybe you wouldn’t want them there.
The good news is that online notarization has been expanding in recent years, and it’s a very viable option when you need a notary and don’t want to leave your home.
It’s not available everywhere
According to DLA PIPER Law firm As of October 2020, there were 28 states with online notarization laws, with more states set to take effect in 2021. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota*, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. [updated October 22]. When the global pandemic struck in early 2020, many states either legislated online notary provisions to take effect sooner or issued executive orders to legally recognize Remote Online Notarization (RON) technology. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also issued statements to address these issues when purchasing a home.
Some states and government agencies have various restrictions regarding out-of-state notarizations and certain rules for certain types of documents. So RON might not be available for everyone, every time a notary is needed. You can check whether it’s right for your situation at one of the large RON platforms, such as Notarize.com or NotaryCam. The National Notary Association has a “Notary Bulletin” blog on its website that consistently updates states’ emergency and temporary measures for online notarization.
How it works
Having a document notarized online isn’t all that different from doing it in person. The notary and signers meet virtually, via webcam, instead of sitting down at a table or desk together.
Usually, the client uploads the document that needs to be notarized to one of the RON platforms. The platform then provides the software needed for the signer(s) and notary public to “meet” online. The notary, just as would happen in person, then verifies the identities of the signers. They do verification three ways:
- Knowledge-based (asking a set of questions)
- Credential Analysis (photo ID is scanned by the signer and examined)
- Remote presentation (photo ID is viewed via webcam)
Most RON laws require all three forms of verification. Once the signer’s identity is verified, both they and the notary electronically sign the document, and the notary attaches an electronic seal to it. It then may be accessed by the signers and shared with third parties.
Security and privacy
Notaries who do online signings must record a journal entry for each one and create an audiovisual recording of the proceedings. If a document is ever challenged in court, the proof of signing is vital. In some cases, the RON platform the notary uses will store the journal entries and recordings.
Of course, electronically storing people’s information is going to raise some concerns. Opponents of online notarization note that a data breach could result in the vulnerability of personal information. Meanwhile, online notary services and their proponents say they are committed to security and privacy and keep on file only as much personal information as required by law.
Online Notarization Services you can use
There are many services online that you can use but they vary depending on your states law. We recommend doing a Google Search for Online Notarization Services and looking at the individual services to find the one that best suits your needs!
The bottom line
Social distancing can disrupt many parts of people’s lives, including tasks that many have done exclusively in person before. Fortunately, technology and the law have allowed for notary public services to move online in many cases, eliminating the need for face-to-face contact.
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