Remote Notarization: How to Notarize Documents Online

More and more states are accommodating notarizations conducted virtually. Learn how remote notarization works and if it's right for you.

What Is Remote Online Notarization (RON)?

Remote online notarization, sometimes also called online notarization or virtual notarization, refers to notarization that relies on online audio-visual communication. The notary public and the document signer are not physically present in the same room, but rather communicate on an audio-visual platform. More and more states are taking steps to accommodate RONs and to specify the requirements the parties must meet. In many states, the notary is required to have special training or licensing to perform a remote online notarization.

Which States Allow Remote Notarization?

About half of the states have enacted permanent laws that address remote online notarization. These states include:

Alaska

Arizona

Florida

Idaho

Indiana

Iowa

Kentucky

Maryland

Louisiana

Michigan

Minnesota

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

North Dakota

South Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Tennessee

Texas

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its stay-at-home orders and new social distancing norms, nearly all of the remaining states have also issued emergency authorizations that allow remote online notarization. (And some states with existing laws have issued temporary orders expanding or clarifying those laws.) These temporary measures have expiration dates, but many have been extended as the pandemic has continued. To look up whether your state currently has an emergency authorization in place, see the National Notary Association’s list of states taking emergency action on remote notarization.

The state laws and executive orders vary widely in what they allow. For example, although South Dakota has enacted a permanent RON law, the law is extremely limited in scope; it allows remote online notarization only of paper—not electronic—documents, and requires a notary to have personal knowledge of the signer’s identity. Several other states also allow only remote ink-signed notarizations (or RINs). Delaware’s temporary order allows only Delaware attorneys to perform RONs. The states also lay out different requirements for the RON process. In other words, when performing a remote online notarization, it’s necessary to follow the very specific guidelines set out by a particular state’s law or emergency order.

A Few States Allow Remote Notarization and Witnessing for Wills and Trusts

Because estate planning documents can involve real concerns about fraud, undue influence, and mental capacity, many states’ remote online notarization statutes and emergency orders either explicitly exclude wills and trusts from documents that can be notarized remotely, or impose more exacting requirements. To find out more about your state and what it allows with respect to wills and trusts, see The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel’s compilation of states. A few states have also enacted permanent laws allowing electronic wills, and many more seem poised to follow suit in the near future. (See What Is an Electronic Will?)

How to Get a Remote Online Notarization?

The exact requirements vary by state, but notarizing your document online typically requires the following steps:

  • Find a notary who can perform RONs in your state. To do this, you can consult a professional (such as your title agent if you’re closing on a home, or an estate planning lawyer if you’re writing a will), contact your secretary of state’s office (or check their website to see if they keep a list of approved vendors), or try one of the relatively new online notarization services that connect you to a virtual notary. As discussed, states vary widely on what additional training or licensing they require of a remote notary, and it might be difficult to find an approved notary in your state.
  • The online notary or notary service verifies the signer’s identity. Some states require only that the signer present a photo I.D., while other states require more, such as identity authentication through multiple-choice questions.
  • The signer signs the document while the notary watches remotely. This might involve the signer e-signing an electronic document or signing in wet ink on paper. Some states require wet ink signings, with the signed document delivered to the notary within 5 days.
  • The notary completes the notarization by adding an electronic signature and electronic seal or, after receiving the paper document, performing a wet ink notarization.

Some states further require that an audio-visual recording of the virtual signing be stored for a number of years, typically between five and 10 years.

The Future of Remote Notarization

Remote online notarizations are rapidly becoming more prevalent, especially given the large push, borne of necessity, during the COVID-19 era. The changing field has raised concerns related to cybersecurity, encryption, and storage of sensitive electronic documents, as well as whether certain identity authentication methods—such as when a notary views a photo I.D. over a camera—are sufficient. At the end of the day, remote online notarizations remain relatively new in many states, and the states’ temporary measures—drafted quickly to respond to emergencies—sometimes leave gaps and raise questions. Some attorneys are wary of relying on them, and advise re-executing (re-signing and re-notarizing) legal documents in traditional ways once emergency circumstances have passed. But it’s clear that remote online notarizations are making inroads and becoming more entrenched in our daily lives.

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