Once you have created your estate planning documents – a Will, Trust, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney – you must sign them to make them legally binding. And in many states, they must be notarized by a Notary Public – a person appointed by the state who validates and certifies documents.
Although it is not required in all states to notarize estate planning documents, a notary’s seal gives them an added legal authentication. A Notary Public vets the creators and signers of the documents, validates identity, and ensures signatures were not forged.
Having estate planning documents notarized reduces the chance of any contesters questioning their legality or even your state of mind. A notarized document holds up better against a legal challenge and is also more commonly accepted than non-notarized documents.
Notarizing Estate Planning Documents in a Pandemic
For estate planning documents to be notarized, all participants are required to be physically present at the signing – until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Since March 2020, many Notary Public offices – along with countless other businesses – were forced to close.
In the wake of the nationwide shutdown, Congress introduced the SECURE Notarization Act (Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020), an emergency legislation that authorized and established standards for remote and electronic notarizations. Under the act, every Notary in the United States can conduct remote online notarizations using live, two-way audio/visual communications, like a webcam, with tamper evident technology.
Remote Online Notarization
As of April 2021, the SECURE Notarization Act has not yet been passed by Congress. However, many states have passed Remote Online Notarization (RON) laws, based on the SECURE Act. This allows Notary Publics to conduct virtual notarizations where signers can have documents validated and electronically signed and notarized.
The Remote Online Notarization provisions include:
- Allowing electronic signatures
- Recording the virtual session
- Remote/electronic notarization of documents
- Allowing a signer to be outside the state the Notary is authorized to act
- Requiring the Notary to verify the signer’s identity
- Affixes electronic notary seal
These provisions vary state-to-state.
Remote Online Notarization in Every State
Nearly three dozen states enacted the RON laws after declaring a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus outbreak. In Massachusetts, for example, the governor signed the Remote Online Notarization act in May 2020 that suspended all in-person notarizations requiring the notary to be present when documents are signed. The legislation allowed for virtual conferencing where documents can be notarized.
The 30 states that have permanent RON laws are: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
There are 18 states with temporary Remote Online Notarization laws that will expire, in some cases, when the respective state’s emergency declaration terminates: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. The District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) also has a temporary RON.
California has no RON laws and South Carolina has not decided on the provision.
Cost of Remote Online Notarization
Each state sets fees that a Notary Public can charge, according to the National Notary Association.
Many states with the Remote Online Notarization have set a limit of $25. At least two states (Mississippi and Texas) allow the $25 fee plus the nominal Notary fee. A few states set the limit at $5 or $10, and one state (Montana) allows a $10 per signature charge. These fees will expire when the emergency RON terminates.
Don't Wait to Get Your Estate Planning Documents Notarized
Don’t let the pandemic get in the way of creating and notarizing your estate planning documents. You never know when a crisis will strike. Having a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, Health Proxy, and Pet Power of Attorney in place and legally binding will protect you, your family, your choices and wishes when life happens.