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Due to the advances in telecommunication technology and access to high-speed internet, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the modern workplace has shifted to an increasingly mobile environment where both employees and their employers either work from home, a local coffee shop, or the traditional office place.

This flexible work arrangement trend spans across multiple industries from healthcare, banking, technology and more. The business of a notary public is no exception. Traditionally a notary public would have to meet with their signers in-person to witness the signing of important documents. But now, thanks to advancements in technology and the safety and health concerns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, notaries have transitioned their business to a remote work model with the advent of remote online notarizations.

What is remote online notarization?

Remote online notarization, or RON for short, is the process of having a notary public, an official of integrity appointed by a state government, notarize a document remotely with assistance of audio-visual technology, electronic signatures, identity verification, an electronic notarial journal, and record keeping technologies.

The notary public and the document signer do not physically appear before each other as they would with a traditional in-person notarization. Instead, they communicate on an audio-visual platform over the internet.

With traditional in-person meetings between a notary public and a document signers, pen-and-ink signatures and rubber stamp notary seals would be used to notarize a document. These mechanisms have been replaced with more secure electronic signatures and electronic notary seals.

These differences between traditional in-person notarizations and remote online notarizations are only the beginning, and the benefits of RON are numerous, as we will discover later on in this post. 

What states allow remote online notarizations?

Notary publics have the option to perform remote online notarizations in most states as RON legislation continues to become more common across the United States. The Commonwealth of Virginia became the first state to issue RON legislation in 2011 - SIGNiX was instrumental in writing the first RON law there. Montana followed their lead in 2015. Since then, the list of states where RON is recognized continues to grow.

The states where permanent laws have been enacted permitting remote online notarizations include:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Some states have allowed temporary remote online notarizations with expiration dates. These states include Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.

The state of California and the District of Columbia do not currently allow notary publics to perform remote online notarizations. Additionally, the state of South Carolina has no laws or guidance issued and the temporary authorization for RON in Connecticut has expired.

The status of RON legislation is subject to change and it’s important to check with your state’s authorities for the latest information.

What kind of technology is used in remote online notarizations?

While performing remote online notarizations is a simple and straightforward process, acquiring the technology required to conduct them needs to be done first. Technology standards and requirements vary by each state that has authorized the use of remote online notarizations and notaries must comply with state notary laws to perform remote online notarizations.

In general, the technology needed to perform a RON includes:

  1. Fast and Reliable Internet Connection: RON laws require the notary, and the signer must be able to see, hear, and communicate with each other clearly during the entire notary session. A fast and reliable internet connection is necessary to meet this requirement.

  2. Digital Notary Seal – The RON platform you choose will provide you with a list of third-party vendors to purchase a legally compliant digital certificate which provides evidence to the parties receiving the notarized document that it has not been altered or changed since it was signed in accordance with lawful online notarization procedures.

  3. Audio/Video Communication Technology – The RON platform you choose will provide the communication technology needed to satisfy your state’s RON laws. This should include, at a minimum,
  • a recording and archiving of the audio-video communication session.

  • sufficient audio clarity and visual resolution to enable the remote online notary and their signer to see, hear and communicate with each other simultaneously through live, real-time transmission; and

  • reasonable security measures to prevent unauthorized access to the live transmission or the record of the audio-video communication.

    4. Identity Proofing and Credential Analysis Tools – With traditional in-person notarizations, notaries physically examine their signer’s identification for alterations to confirm the signer’s credentials and examine the physical descriptions, signer’s signature, and signer’s photo on the identification to confirm the signer’s identity. Remote online notarization laws require stronger identification methods to identify the signer. Each signer must go through a three-step identification process that includes:
  • Identity proofing of the signer
  • Credential analysis
  • Remote presentation of signer’s identity

  1. 5. E-Notary Journal – Remote online notaries are required to record remote notarial acts in a secure electronic journal. The RON platform you choose will provide you with these electronic journals to comply with your state remote notary laws.

    6. Backup and Storage – All electronic journal entries and audio/video session recordings must be stored and backed up according to your state notary laws. Usually, most states require a backup system for your electronic journal and audio/video session recordings and require you retain the backups for five to ten years depending on your state. Your remote online service provider will provide you with backup support for your online notarial acts.

To perform remote online notarizations, notaries must use RON technology platforms that comply with their state notary laws. They are also responsible for every remote notarial act they perform. As with traditional notary law, notaries must understand the remote notarization laws of their state to ensure they conduct lawful notarizations.

What are the benefits of using remote online notarizations?

Remote online notarizations benefit both the notary public and their signers. Compared to traditional in-person notarizations, notarizations performed remotely save both time and money. Additional benefits include:

  • Increased Access and Convenience: With remote online notarizations, notaries no longer need to gather in the same location as their document signers to provide notarial services. Because of the elimination of the physical requirement, RON makes notarization more accessible to people who do not have access to transportation, have non-traditional work schedules, live in remote areas, or have health issues that do not allow them to leave their homes. 
  • Minimization of Fraud: Remote online notarizations take identity verification even further than in-person notarization by using established identity proofing technologies including:

          • Identity verification: Government-issued identification is presented by the signer to the camera on their device. The RON platform confirms the identification’s visual, physical and cryptographic security features, creating a more sophisticated process than an in-person review by a notary who may not have relevant experience.
          • Knowledge-based authentication (KBA): In the majority of states, signers must correctly answer several questions from their personal background, which are then verified from a third-party database. This knowledge-based authentication mechanism adds another later of identifying the signer’s identity prior to joining the audio-visual session. 
          • Security and enforceability: Remote online notarizations employs several additional security features to prove the authenticity of a signed and notarized document.

    • Tamper-evident seal: An automatically generated digital seal helps authorities determine whether a document notarized with remote online notarization was altered.

    • Robust audit trail: The audio-visual recording and electronic journal serve as evidence of a completed notarial act.

What types of documents can I notarize using remote online notarizations?

Remote online notarizations can be used in many different industries. RON makes signing and notarizing documents more efficient and less costly. RON is most commonly used by professionals in highly regulated industries like financial services, insurance, law and government. Additionally, RON has applications in business services, technology, retail, and many other sectors of the economy.

State and local governments use remote online notarization for many official documents including:

  • Notarized child custody agreements: A child custody agreement explains how an individual and their former partner will co-parent their children and must be notarized, along with other use cases in child welfare and family court.

  • Quitclaim deeds: A quitclaim deed is used to transfer a public or private property to a grantee. The quitclaim deed must be signed and notarized to be official.

Law firms and other entities in the legal services industry have several use cases for remote online notarizations including:

  • Deeds: Like the deed to your house, these legal documents must be notarized to show the transfer of ownership of real property from one person or entity to another.

  • Power of Attorney: Notarization is required when instating a power of attorney, or a person who can act on behalf of another person

  • Affidavits and motions: Written statements from individuals sworn to be true, also known as affidavits, are among the most frequently notarized documents in litigations, alongside motions, or written requests from the court to make a legal ruling.

Financial services and insurance industries use remote online notarized for ensuring the validity of official transactions. Three instances where RON is particularly useful include:

  • Auto title transfers: When the title of a vehicle is transferred to a new owner, a notary must be present to authorize the transaction. With RON, the insurers and lenders can both expedite claim resolution and refinancing.

  • Establishing trusts: Establishing a trust, also known as a fiduciary arrangement in which a third party, or trustee, holds assets on behalf of a beneficiary, can be a long and complicated process, but it can be simplified via RON

  • Beneficiary changes and retirement distributions: Certain retirement plans require spousal consent when changing beneficiaries or benefit elections and they must be recorded by a notary public. RON aides wealth managers and life insurers with increase speed of these changes for their clients.

The use cases for remote online notarizations continue to grow across various industries and so does the importance of cybersecurity, encryption, and storage of sensitive electronic documents. Remote online notarizations are relatively new in many states, but it’s clear that this innovative technology is here to stay.

The SIGNiX solution to remote online notarizations

eNotaryDox, SIGNiX’s remote online notarization software, provides users an easy to navigate platform at a much lower cost than similar platforms. With the help of audio-visual technology, in concert with SIGNiX’s patented digital signature technology, notaries can perform their duties in a smooth and simple process ensuring their documents integrity and their customer’s satisfaction.

Included in SIGNiX’s eNotaryDox is a highly detailed record of the signature and notary process itself in TotalAudit™. Additionally, SIGNiX enables strong, multi-factor authentication options like knowledge-based authentication to positively verify the identity of the signers involved in the notarization process.

Notaries play a crucial role in performing many important transactions that need to be completed in a trusted environment. SIGNiX’s solution to remote online notarizations give notaries the ability to acquire new business and improve their current business with increased customer satisfaction, cost effectiveness, security, and fraud protection.

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