Prior to our current situation where everyone is encouraged, or in some cases required, to stay at home except when conducting “essential activities”, the use of technology in mortgage closings had already taken a hold. Increasingly, state legislatures had recognized the benefits of electronic mortgage loan closings and were passing laws to support the use of the technology in one of the largest sectors of the US economy. Indeed, over the past couple of years, states were going beyond simple electronic closings to adopt laws that supported fully remote online closings completed with remote notaries. Remote online notarization, as it is called or “RON”, is a process of using audio-visual communication devices to allow a notary and signer to complete a notarization of documents in a virtual online environment, removing the need for a notary and signer to be in each other’s physical presence.
Remote Online Notarization has huge benefits for both consumers and the industry in any normal situation. However, in the current situation that the country and the world find ourselves in, this technology is indispensable. In recognition of the critical role this technology can provide to such an important industry and to our economy, government leaders around the country at all levels have shown a determination to provide a legal basis of support for its use and immediate adoption.
On March 18th, federal legislation was introduced that if passed, would immediately authorize remote online notarizations nationwide by any current notary. Senate Bill 3533, “The Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020 (Secure Notarization Act)” would allow all notaries licensed in the United States to perform remote online notarizations. The bill would still allow states to place additional requirements above and beyond those of the bill and leave in place any such state rules that already exist. The bill would also allow notarization of signatures completed outside of the United States by a remote notary.
Prior to March, a total of 13 states had enacted and fully implemented RON laws and/or rules including: Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It should be noted that South Dakota laws only allow for remote online notarization of paper documents and require that signers be identified through a notary’s personal knowledge. Indiana, Michigan, Utah, and Vermont passed laws prior to March but had not yet fully implemented them.
As “shelter-in-place” orders began across the country in March due to the Coronavirus, several states issued temporary authorization for remote online notarizations through governors’ executive orders or other guidance, allowing for much-needed notary services to continue while notaries and signers maintain social distancing.
New York: On March 19, 2020, Executive Order No. 202.7 was issued to allow for any notarial act that is required under New York State law to be performed utilizing RON until the expiration of the order on April 18, 2020, under the following conditions:
- The person seeking the notary services, if not personally known to the notary, must present valid photo ID during the video conference;
- The video conference must allow for direct interaction between the person and the notary;
- The person must affirmatively represent that they are present in the state;
- The signer must transmit by fax or electronic means a legible copy of the signed document directly to the notary on the same date it was signed;
- The notary may notarize the transmitted copy of the document and transmit the same back to the person;
- The notary may repeat the notarization of the original signed document as of the date of execution provided the notary receives such original signed document together with the electronically notarized copy within 30 days after the execution.
Connecticut: On March 23, 2020, Executive Order No. 7K was issued to allow for RONs until June 23, 2020, or until the order is modified or terminated. One requirement under the order necessitates a copy of the recorded act be maintained by the notary for a period of at least 10 years and is otherwise similar to the New York order.
Illinois: On March 26, 2020, the governor issued Executive Order 2020-14 stating that during the remainder of the Disaster Proclamation, the requirement for “appearing before” a notary can be satisfied by two-way audio-visual communication technology as long as the parties are located within the state. In addition, the governor’s order allows for any required witness to a signature to occur via remote technology.
Iowa: A State Public Health Emergency Declaration issued on March 22, 2020 included a Proclamation that temporarily suspends the personal appearance requirement for notarial acts, allowing for RONs to be performed until April 16, 2020, unless modified or extended. The order also allows for remote witnesses. Iowa previously passed a RON law set to become effective July 1st this year.
New Hampshire: Executive Order 2020-04 #11 was issued to permit RONs during the ongoing State of Emergency to allow for “a secure and safe method by which to execute important legal documents.” Unlike other orders, the NH order allows for the signer to be outside of the state at the time of signing.
Washington: Senate Bill 5641 created RON laws for Washington that were to go into effect on October 1, 2020. Emergency Proclamation 20-05, signed on March 24, 2020, puts the law into effect immediately, until the expiration of the order on April 26, 2020.
Wisconsin: At the direction of the governor, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions issued emergency guidance authorizing RONs “subject to several safeguards to ensure the integrity of the notarial process.” The guidance provides requirements along with a list of approved providers. Wisconsin previously passed a RON law set to become effective May 1st this year. Wisconsin, under its previously passed law, also requires an additional approval for systems used to perform remote notarizations which is still required under the emergency guidance.
Other states have taken measures to postpone the expiration date for identification cards, allowing notaries to accept the relevant identification cards, such as an expired driver license, as valid. For instance, Arizona issued Executive Order 2020-08, deferring the renewal requirement for driver’s licenses for 6 months. Licenses set to expire between March 1 and September 1 shall be considered valid and can be accepted as identification by a notary. In Texas, the governor directed the Department of Public Safety to extend the expiration date for up to 60 days past the end of the State of Disaster. Similarly in Georgia, the expiration date for applicable identification has been extended for 60 days.
Other states that have passed laws but not taken any additional recent emergency action include Arizona and Nebraska with new RON laws effective July 1, and Maryland with its law effective October 1, all this year.
As the pandemic continues, RON laws remain fluid, as more states may take emergency measures to allow for remote notarial acts. DocMagic will continue to provide updates for federal and state law developments. In addition, DocMagic’s Total eClose is available to assist any of our clients with completing an electronic closing today. Please contact us to ask more about Total eClose!
Keep track of the current status of state adoption of laws, rules and emergency orders allowing Remote Online Notarization using our new tracking matrix.