How to Use a Remote Online Notary

How to Use a Remote Online Notary

by Jonathan Layton, J.D., April 2020

Amid the social distancing protocols and shelter-in-place orders mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals are discovering that they don't need to leave their homes to have a document notarized. In fact, more than half the states in our nation have abandoned the traditional in-person notarization requirement and now allow—or will soon allow—remote online notarizations (RONs).

How to Use a Remote Online Notary

RONs permit individuals to connect with a notary public to sign and notarize documents entirely online, at any time. There are a few things to keep in mind, however.

Read on to learn what a RON is, what services a RON provides, how online notarizations work, the benefits of remote notarization over traditional notarization methods, and which states permit RONs.

What Types of Documents Must Be Notarized?

There are a number of documents that must be notarized in order to become legal. A last will and testament is just one of many examples. Other examples include trusts, estates, powers of attorney, and most commercial loan documents.

What is a Remote Online Notary?

A notary public serves the public by acting as an impartial witness to the signing of documents. A notary public is responsible for verifying the identities of each person signing a particular document, confirming their willingness and mental capacity to sign the document, and ensuring that the signer understands the nature and significance of the document being executed.

Traditionally, the most significant step involved in ensuring that a document is properly notarized is requiring the signer(s) to appear face-to-face before the notary public so that the notary may witness the various signatures on the document. However, in recent years, the use of RONs has increased in popularity and demand.

One obvious benefit of using RONs is the fact that neither the signing party nor the notary public needs to leave the comfort of their respective homes and/or offices to have a document notarized. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, RONs are likely to continue to gain momentum.

Although a notary public serves to authenticate the validity of documents, a notary is unable to dispense legal advice or comment upon the advisability of signing (or not signing) a document; only a lawyer, accountant, or other trained professional should be involved in such discussions. Additionally, a notary public may only perform notarizations within the boundaries of the state where they are commissioned to serve as a notary public.

How a Remote Online Notarization Works

As the name suggests, a RON can carry out the required notarial acts remotely through the internet with a shared web conferencing platform. The platform provides the technology (via a live audio-video call), thereby allowing the signer and notary to see, hear, and speak to one another during the process. By using an online web conference platform, the previous requirement of face-to-face contact is satisfied.

Once the notary completes the notarization requirements mandated by the state, the signer and notary both sign the document electronically. The notary then affixes an electronic seal to the document and records it. After this process is complete, the notarized document can be accessed by the signer at any time.

Which States Allow RON?

RONs are not permitted in all United States jurisdictions. Currently, 23 states have authorized notaries to perform notarizations remotely using audiovisual technology via the internet. Of those 23 states, 17 have laws that went into effect as of January 1, 2020.

The states that have fully implemented their remote notarization procedures are Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. The remaining six states that anticipate becoming fully implemented at some point between May 1, 2020, and October 1, 2020, are Wisconsin, Arizona, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, and Washington.

Are Remote Online Notaries Here to Stay?

Some may question why not all 50 states have joined the RON bandwagon. Despite the apparent benefits of allowing notarizing via the internet, the hesitation may be fueled by concerns about potential data privacy breaches. Whatever the rationale, and whether you're a fan or not, one thing is for sure—RONs are likely here to stay.

If you are in one of the states authorizing RONs and need a document notarized, check with a qualifying local notary to handle the RON for you.