What’s the deal with e-notarizations?

Between our seminars and our on-going support system, we hear regularly from our Notaries wanting to know about e-notarizations; “are they legal?”, “how do we perform these notarizations?”, and “are they safe?”.

Currently, there are no laws in California which specifically outline the legality of e-notarizations. It is not as black and white as one might imagine. That said, there are companies that exist that serve to provide Notaries with a means of performing e-notarizations.  These companies provide an electronic seal for the Notary to affix on a digital document. Notaries can even sign the notarial certificate with a digital signature. However, The National Association of Secretaries of State issued a policy statement on “electronic notarization” stating the following: “[A]ll states [that] require that an individual seeking to have a document electronically notarized appear in person before the notary at the time of notarization.” California is one of those states, so we cannot stress enough that your document signer must appear before you to have their document notarized, even if it is a digital document.

Placing a seal electronically on a document isn’t the only feature these companies offer. Notaries may also use an electronic journal according to companies like DocVerify in Orange County. The document signer must sign his/her name on the digital journal through a signature pad or other means.

How does it work? A signer brings their document to the Notary. The Notary scans the document and saves it into a PDF. The journal is then completed by the Notary and signed by the signer digitally. Then, the notarial certificate is added to the document and completed by the Notary. Document storage security is also available. Stored documents are considered secured because they cannot be altered and will be flagged if any party tries. This could prove beneficial to the Notary if a signer modifies any information on a notarized document once printed. A Notary would then be able to produce the real document that was notarized for comparison if the issue turned into a legal problem.

The Secretary of State has told NPS in the recent past that the electronic seals fit within the legal requirements of Notary law. Slightly baffled, we contacted several County Recorder’s offices throughout California where the clerk stated that they do not accept electronic seals and mentioned that it was easy to tell the difference. Currently, there is an e-recording process with the county recorder’s office whereby notarized documents are emailed instead of filed in person. Given that information we wonder if some recorders just aren’t use to the idea yet. We suspect that e-notarizations are a growing trend that will eventually succeed. But for now, we advise our students to stick with the old fashioned methods of physical seals, journals, and signatures until more lawmakers weigh in.

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