Virtual Notary Bills Are Making Headway

The “new normal” procedures established during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic brought lasting changes in some industries while in others, the old ways have gradually returned.

In still other situations, interim changes continue to be extended while decisionmakers debate the pros and cons of making temporary accommodations permanent. Notary services in Massachusetts fall into that last category. Lawmakers keep extending the temporary provisions allowing for remote virtual notary services while they debate the implementation of permanent changes. Current authorization is set to expire March 31, 2023.

Provisions During COVID State of Emergency

In April of 2020, lawmakers passed a law allowing notaries appointed under Chapter 222 of the General Laws to “perform an acknowledgement, affirmation or other notarial act” using “electronic video conferencing in real time. In other words, they allowed people to meet with a notary “virtually” rather than face to face.

What the law allowed was signatures in the virtual rather than actual presence of a notary. It did not authorize the use of electronic signatures but still required “wet” signatures.

How Video Notary Services Work

Under the interim provisions, virtual notary services must follow strict procedures to be legally valid. Generally, a virtual notary process operates with the following procedures:

  • The notary service sets up a virtual meeting using electronic video conferencing in real time.
  • The services sends the original documents to the person who will be signing, but retains the notary pages, along with any witness pages, if applicable
  • During the virtual electronic meeting, the person signing shows the notary a valid photo ID issued by the federal or state government
  • The person signing verbally agrees to have the virtual meeting recorded and kept on file
  • The person signing certifies that they are physically located in Massachusetts. If there is someone else present in the room where the signing will take place, they identify that person.
  • The person signs the original document while the notary and witnesses watch on camera in real time
  • The notary and witnesses sign their pages while the signer watches on camera in real time.
  • The signer sends the original signed pages to the notary service so that the full document can be assembled.
  • The notary service executes an affidavit specifying all these procedures were followed, and the notary’s location in Massachusetts on the date of signing.

In situations where the signed documents involve real estate, then a second electronic meeting is usually held to confirm that the documents the notary service received are the actual documents signed during the first meeting.

Objections to Virtual Notaries Involve Logistics and Funding

It seems likely that virtual notary provisions will become permanent features of the legal landscape at some point. When lawmakers in Massachusetts proposed allowing remote certification of home sales, wills, trusts, and other legal documents to continue, the biggest objections involved concerns about authorization of notaries. The proposals would have required notaries to be re-authorized to provide virtual electronic services, and the state agency in charge of the authorization process was not prepared to handle the volume of requests.

As a practical matter, virtual notarization helps those who are homebound, but it can extend the time it takes to complete the process considerably, so virtual notarization would likely be an additional option rather than a replacement for traditional notary services.

Help with Legal Documents

If you have concerns about the legal execution of legal documents such as wills, trusts, and documents associated with real estate transactions, the experienced team at Jordan & White can assist. Just give us a call.