·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


The Growing Need for Digital Notarization

— November 11, 2020

While there is still some unease by notaries in the change ups that have occurred for digital notarizations, these changes have been well received by many notaries and customers.

Many people will find that they will need to enlist a notary’s assistance at one point or another throughout their lifetime. Whether it’s signing a mortgage note or an auto loan, having the document notarized is a must for legal purposes. With the shift to online loan documents and mortgages, it’s no wonder that many people are looking for online notarization sources. 

It only makes sense that online convenience is utilized in the world of notarizations. However, the truth is that many states, before the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t authorize electronic notarizations. Some states said no to all types of digital notary services. Other states offered only a limited selection of documents that could be notarized by an online notary service. 

Notarizes tend to deal with a lot of different legal documents throughout their day. Since they service a state-wide audience, they need to be prepared to handle different types of notarizations. Some of the most commonly sought out are:

  • Notice Of Lien / Lien Release
  • Affidavit Of Heirship
  • Uniform Consent To Service Of Process
  • Vehicle Certificate Of Ownership / Title Application
  • Designated Beneficiaries For A Retirement Account And Death Benefits
  • Power Of Attorney
  • Handgun Permit
  • Promissory Note Agreements
  • Jurats
  • Acknowledgements

If you’ve never underwent the process to notarize a document, let’s go over that now. A notarization is simply an official fraud-detterent process that helps to ensure that all parties of a particular transaction are authentic. Each notarization has three distinct parts. 

1.) Vetting – This is where the notary identifies the signer via a legal identification document or personal knowledge. 

2.) Certifying – This is when the notary affixes their own notarial seal to the document to signify their certification of the facts of the document.

3.) Record Keeping – Every online notary keeps a ‘Journal Of Notarial Acts’. This journal includes specific information about each notarization, such as the date, time, person, and notarial act. 

Many business professionals will find themselves in constant need of a decent notary. Most turn to hire one in-house, so they don’t have to travel to a notarial office continually. However, the demand for digital notary services can minimize the costs associated with notarial acts for business owners. 

New Laws Authorizing Safe and Secure Digital Notarization 

As of late last year, over 24 states have authorized some form of digital notarization. Many states utilize the term remote online notarization or RON, for short. One thing is for sure. There have been substantial changes in the way that traditional notarizations are performed.

Computer monitor, keyboard, mouse and laptop on a desk; image by Pakata Goh, via
Computer monitor, keyboard, mouse and laptop on a desk; image by Pakata Goh, via

For some asked to notarize a document via RON, it seems like a risky business. For these individuals, they believe the RON practices sway too far from the traditional safeguards that in-person notarization offered. On the other hand, many are excited about having an online notary service. Now, they’re capable of providing notarizations for thousands of customers instead of just the local population. Just like any change to the system, some people lie on both sides of the matter. 

The Three Main Changes

To help you better understand the new laws that have been implemented regarding RONs, we need to first look at the three areas of the notarial act that have changed. These include:

  • What It Means to Appear Before a Notary
  • How the Signer is Identified
  • How the Notarial Records are Kept

Traditionally, the signer must have appeared in-person before the notary to have the notarization performed. With the induction of RONs, this has changed. Appearing before a notary is defined differently in every state. However, most incorporate audiovisual technology, like a webcam, where the notary can hear and see the signer. 

The identification of the signer is an avid part of the notarial process. Traditionally, this was done via personal knowledge of the online notary or legal identification documents. RONs allow for three types of identification. These are knowledge-based authentication, credential analysis, and remote presentation. 

With knowledge-based authentication or KBA, the notary asks the signer a series of computer-generated questions regarding their credit, financial situation, and life. The signer must answer the questions correctly over the audiovisual equipment. Credential analysis allows the RON technology to easily scan the signer’s ID for regular security elements to ensure its validity. Lastly, remote presentation is where the signer simply holds their ID in front of the camera for the notary to view. 

Many states are starting to require that online notary services keep a digital recording of the notarization. This ups the ante compared to keeping only written copies. Now, electronic journal entries alongside written entries must be kept for every RON performed by a licensed notary. 

The Effects Of COVID-19 Have Increased Digital Notary Demand

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about our daily lives. One area that has been hit heavily is notarizations. From buying new homes to signing will documents, notaries are in demand. The problem COVID-19 presented was that many states didn’t authorize remote notarization. 

Pending the on-going social distancing issues, the notarization industry had to change their usual practices just like others. Many states started with passing a temporary remote notarization waiver. This waiver allowed notaries to perform digital notarizations according to a strict protocol set forward by their state. After noting the success of digital notary workers, many states have adopted digital notary services as permanent.

While there is still some unease by notaries in the change ups that have occurred for digital notarizations, these changes have been well received by many notaries and customers. No longer do people need to physically appear in-person to notarize a document. Now, they can simply enlist the help of online notary services. This makes life more convenient for many and safer going into the future with the necessity of social distancing. 

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