Notary Services In A World of Social Distancing: Online Notarization
Fiduciary relationships often require a party to notarize a document. For example, a party may need to or want to use notary services for each of the following: a person may execute new trust or estate documents, a beneficiary may execute an agreement or release with a fiduciary, a successor trustee or estate representative may want to execute a document accepting their position, fiduciaries may need to execute real estate and oil and gas transactional documents, parties may execute trust termination, merger, or severance documents, and parties may execute court filings. There are countless different examples of when a party may need to notarize a document in the context of fiduciary relationships, disputes, or litigation.
At this time, however, traditional notary services may be more difficult to obtain. Certain stores that traditionally provide that service are not at this time due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, even if a party can find a traditional notary provider, he or she may not want to risk exposure to COVID-19 by leaving their home. There is a new option for businesses and individuals in Texas (and twenty-one other states) that allow them to use an online notarization service.
Effective July 1, 2018, Texas passed a bill authorizing online notarization via the Texas Government Code Section 406.101, et. seq. Texas was the third state to do so, though twenty-two states currently have a similar statute. This law allows parties to use online services to effectuate a notarization on electronic documents. A provider has to apply to the Texas Secretary of State and be approved to provide the online service. Once approved, an online notary public: “(1) is a notary public for purposes of Subchapter A and is subject to that subchapter to the same extent as a notary public appointed and commissioned under that subchapter; (2) may perform notarial acts as provided by Subchapter A in addition to performing online notarizations; and (3) may perform an online notarization authorized under this subchapter.” Tex. Gov’t Code §406.106. Specifically, an online notary may: “(1) take acknowledgments or proofs of written instruments; (2) protest instruments permitted by law to be protested; (3) administer oaths; (4) take depositions; and (5) certify copies of documents not recordable in the public records.” Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 406.107, 406.016.
The main issue for the online notary is verifying the identity of the person signing the document. Regarding verification, the statute provides:
(b) In performing an online notarization, an online notary public shall verify the identity of a person creating an electronic signature at the time that the signature is taken by using two-way video and audio conference technology that meets the requirements of this subchapter and rules adopted under this subchapter. Identity may be verified by: (1) the online notary public’s personal knowledge of the person creating the electronic signature; or (2) each of the following: (A) remote presentation by the person creating the electronic signature of a government-issued identification credential, including a passport or driver’s license, that contains the signature and a photograph of the person; (B) credential analysis of the credential described by Paragraph (A); and (C) identity proofing of the person described by Paragraph (A).
(c) The online notary public shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the two-way video and audio communication used in an online notarization is secure from unauthorized interception.
(d) The electronic notarial certificate for an online notarization must include a notation that the notarization is an online notarization.
Tex. Gov’t Code § 406.110.
There are multiple different providers of online notary services, and a simple internet search can locate them. Typically, when a party engages the online notary, the party uploads a pdf of the document and forwards it to the company. The company then sends the documents to the signer via electronic means with an option to sign with a notary. The signer and the notary get instructions to complete the electronic notarization. The signer connects with a licensed electronic notary public over live video to sign the document. The electronic notary public confirms the signer’s identity, witnesses the signature, and assists throughout the process. When that occurs, the notarization session is recorded in the notary’s electronic notary journal, and the notary affixes his or her electronic notary stamp.
The process is relatively simple, is affordable, and is a valid way to notarize a document. Importantly, online notarizations avoid face-to-face contact during these difficult times.