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Electronic Notarizations

What is an electronic notarization?

An electronic notarization is a notarial act performed by an electronic notary public using his or her electronic seal and electronic signature on electronic documents.

What is the difference between an electronic notarization and a paper-based notarization?

The notary public uses different notary materials to perform the notarial acts. However, the execution of proper notarial procedures remains the same for the performance of an electronic notarization. These requirements include, personal appearance, verifying the identity of the signer through satisfactory evidence, the execution of a notarial certificate, affixing the notary signature to the certificate, and the authentication of the official act with an official seal.

May I perform an electronic notarization without the principal signer personally appearing before me?

No. For the performance of all notarial acts, the principal signer must be in the actual physical presence of the electronic notary public at the time of the execution of the notarization. Electronic devices such as telephones, computers, video cameras, and facsimile machines may not be used to satisfy the requirement of personal appearance.

Can an electronic notary take an acknowledgment of the principal signer over the phone or by video conferencing?

No. There are no exceptions to the cardinal principle that the signer must personally appear before the notary public at the time of the performance of the notarial act. This fundamental requirement applies for electronic notarizations just as it applies to paper-based notarizations.

What notarial acts may an electronic notary public perform?

The same notarial acts permitted in most states for paper-based notarizations—such as taking acknowledgments, administering oaths or affirmations, jurats, and verifications or proofs—can also be performed electronically.

How do I verify the identity of a principal signer in an electronic notarial act?

For the performance of every notarial act, a notary public must establish the identity of the principal signer by the state’s required satisfactory evidence of identification. In most states, a signer must prove his/her identity to the notary by one of the following methods of identification: 1) the signer furnishes a current identification card or other document issued by the state or federal government that contains the photograph and signature of the signer; 2) the signer is personally known to the notary; or 3) an oath is taken from a credible witness who is personally known to both the signer and notary public. The same methods of identity verification for paper-based notarizations apply to electronic notarizations.

Can I use a different name for my electronic notarization registration than the name on my notary public commission?

No. The electronic notary public must use the name on his notary commission to register his capability to perform electronic notarizations.

Where can I obtain information concerning my state’s electronic notarization laws and administrative rules?

Contact your state’s commissioning authority to obtain a list of all pertinent laws and rules governing electronic notarization.

What are approved electronic notarization solutions?

Some states require that the state’s commissioning authority approve “electronic notary solution providers,” that is, providers of any electronic notary seals or electronic signatures. The provider must submit an application to the state’s commissioning authority that includes the hardware and software specifications and requirements for the provider’s electronic notarization system. The application must also include a description of the type(s) of technology used in the provider's electronic notarization system and a demonstration of how the technology is used to perform an electronic notarization. Not all applications submitted by providers are approved by the state’s commissioning authority because some fail to meet the state’s legal standards.

How much do electronic notarization solutions costs?

The cost will vary from one solution to another. Contact your state’s commissioning authority to determine whether it has endorsed or authorized an electronic notary solution. Some states do not always approve such solutions because they fail to meet their technical and legal standards.

Where do I register my ability to perform electronic notarizations?

If state notary laws mandate registering your ability to perform electronic notarizations, you will generally register with the state’s commissioning authority. If state law mandates such registration, there will also be a fee involved.

Since the laws now allow for electronic notarizations, does a real-time computer web-camera count as the signer being present if the notary personally knows the signer and has satisfactory evidence of identity, the proper electronic signatures, and documents?

No. A notary public may not perform an electronic notarization if the principal signer appears before the notary by means of a computer web-camera even if the notary is familiar with the signer and has identified the signer through satisfactory evidence of identification. The most important rule in the execution of proper notarial procedures is that the signer must personally appear before the notary public at the time of the performance of the notarial act. In most states, a notary public is prohibited from performing a notarial act when the person for whom the notarization is performed does not personally appear before the notary at the time of the execution of the notarization. There are no exemptions to the “personal appearance” golden rule. The signer must be physically in the presence of the notary, face-to-face, in the same room at the time of the execution of the notarization. This very important rule also applies to the execution of an electronic notarization. Congress enacted the first federal law in 2000, the “Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act,” giving electronic signatures the same legal importance as a handwritten signature and recognizing electronic transactions as a legitimate method of conducting business nationwide. Many states have also enacted similar laws allowing the use of electronic documents and signatures, including those of the notaries. The flaws in most states’ statutes are that neither the federal nor state governments have adopted or implemented legislative guidelines or rules for the performance of electronic notarizations. It is very crucial that a notary public does not bypass the very fundamental requirements in the execution of proper notarial procedures in the notarization of electronic documents. The execution of proper notarial procedures is the same for electronic documents as for paper documents.