A Guide to Remote Online Notarization

Remote online notarization (RON) refers to the process of having a state-licensed notary public notarize a document remotely through the use of electronic signature, identity verification, audio-visual and electronic notarial journal and record keeping technologies. 

For anyone who has had to locate and visit a notary public to sign a document, the convenience of RON is obvious. But there are other benefits that RON offers over in-person, paper-based notarization, including:

  • Increased access to notarial services
  • Security and enforceability
  • Reduced risk of identity fraud 

Accustomed to the convenience that’s followed the rise of electronic signature technology, many have grown frustrated with the traditional paper-based, in-person process of notarization. But now, through RON technology, notarization is experiencing its own digital upgrade.  

Using RON, notaries and the industries that employ them are reducing the time it takes to deliver services to their clients and complete authorized transactions. In addition to making business more efficient and improving the customer experience, RON helps mitigate risk and fraud throughout the notarization process. Many states have already adopted RON legislation, and the trend has only accelerated since many people were forced to work remotely and socially distance.

In this blog, we walk through everything you need to know about the new shift toward RON, from relevant regulations to exactly how it works. The questions we cover include: 

  • What is remote online notarization (RON)? 
  • What are the general criteria for performing RON?
  • What are the benefits of using RON?
  • Is RON technology legal and secure?
  • Which types of documents can I notarize with RON?

What is remote online notarization (RON)? 

RON is the process of notarizing a document remotely through the use of electronic signature, identity verification, audio-visual and electronic notarial journal and record keeping technologies. These technologies enable notaries to notarize securely while also saving time and travel for themselves and the parties involved. Instead of meeting in a physical location to sign a paper document, the notary public and the signer can conduct a notarial act on their devices from wherever they happen to be located, as long as their state laws permit. 

What are the general criteria for performing RON?

More and more states are authorizing the use of RON, a trend that has only accelerated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The criteria for performing RON varies slightly by state, but most legislation includes the following mandates: 

  • Notary registration with the state
  • Use of audio-visual communication technology
  • Utilization of credential analysis technology to verify government-issued ID
  • Application of electronic signatures and electronic seals
  • Reliance on recordings, electronic journaling (i.e. digital audit trail creation) and storage
  • Adherence to common data privacy principles

What are the benefits of using RON?

 RON offers numerous benefits over in-person notarization, including:

  • Convenience and increased access: With RON, notaries don’t need to gather in the same location as signers to provide notarial services. By removing this barrier, RON makes notarization more accessible to people who lack adequate transportation, live in remote areas, have non-traditional work schedules, or have health issues that confine them to their home.  
  • Fraud minimization: Of course, notarization is meant to ensure that the person signing a document is who they say they are. RON takes authentication even further than in-person notarization by using established identity proofing technologies, including: 
    • Identity verification: Signers present a government-issued ID to the camera on their device. The RON solution captures an image and verifies it against public and private data sources. The ID’s visual, physical and cryptographic security features are confirmed as well, lending to a more sophisticated process than an in-person review by a notary without relevant experience in this area.  
    • Knowledge-based authentication (KBA): In many states, signers must correctly answer several questions from their personal background, which are then verified from a third-party database. This adds another layer of identifying the signer’s identity prior to joining the audio-visual session.  
  • Security and enforceability: RON employs a few additional security features to help show that a signed and notarized document is authentic. 
    • Tamper-evident seal: An automatically-generated digital seal helps authorities determine whether a document notarized with RON was altered. 
    • Robust audit trail: The electronic journal and audio-visual recording serve as evidence of a completed notarial act. 

Is RON technology legal and secure? 

Just as electronic signature standards have changed over time with the emergence of new technologies, standards governing notarization are continually evolving. Across the U.S., RON is gaining traction as a convenient and secure way to notarize documents and agreements. That said, laws can vary between states, so it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the nuances surrounding this burgeoning process and consult with local counsel as necessary. 

Are all electronic or remote notarizations RON? 

Not all electronic or remote notarizations classify as RON. Additional notarizations methods have emerged alongside developments in electronic signature and audio-visual technology. The two most notable are: 

  • In-person electronic notarization (IPEN): IPEN was the first foray into electronic notarization. While, like RON, it involves the use of electronic signature and notarization, it differs in that it doesn’t take place remotely; the notary has to be in the same location as the signer.  
  • Remote ink-signed notarization (RIN): While the notary and the signer do not have to be in the same location under RIN, the signer does have to sign a physical, paper document, which the notary observes via audio-visual technology. The signer then mails the document to the notary, who authorizes it and sends it back to the appropriate party. 
 

Paper document(s) & ink signatures

Digital document(s) & electronic signatures

In-person Traditional notarization In-person electronic notarization (IPEN)
Remote Remote ink-signed notarization (RIN) Remote online notarization (RON)

Are there laws governing RON?

RON legislation is becoming increasingly common across the United States. In 2011, the Commonwealth of Virginia became the first to issue RON legislation, with Montana following suit in 2015. Since then, over 35 other states have passed RON legislation, while nearly all others have permitted notaries to perform RON acts through executive orders or temporary legislation

The foundation of current RON legislation—and previous IPEN legislation, for that matter—can be traced back to state and federal electronic signature laws. Core principles within these laws, some of which date back 20 years, are relevant today, including technology neutrality, audibility, security and data privacy. 

The most recent legislative milestone concerning RON is known as the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts of 2018 (RULONA). Published by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), RULONA allows states to adopt and enable RON, and provides certainty around performing notarial acts, even when completed on an electronic record or if the signer is solely present via audio-visual technology.  

Is RON valid in all states?

While RON is recognized in many jurisdictions across the country, it’s still a relatively new process with evolving laws and standards. Because a few states have yet to fully adopt RON, many wonder about its validity across state lines. Fortunately, most states have statutes that recognize out-of-state notarial acts. As long as RON has been completed in accordance with all laws in the state in which the notary public is commissioned, the remotely and digitally notarized document is legally effective, like traditionally notarized document—and should be recognized as such anywhere in the country. 

Additionally, in most states with RON legislation, it doesn’t matter where the signer is located, whether within the United States or internationally. However, the notary overseeing the transaction must be commissioned by a state with active legislation and comply with all applicable laws. 

For more information about the validity of RON across state lines or laws governing RON in your state, browse Are Remote Online Notarizations Recognized in All States? on our blog and our RON Legality Guide

Which types of documents can I notarize using RON? 

Across countless industries, professionals have discovered how dramatically RON makes signing and notarizing documents more efficient and less costly. RON is most commonly used in financial services, insurance, law and government, but there are plenty of other applications for RON in business services, technology, retail and many more sectors. Please see the example use cases below. 

Financial services and insurance

In the financial services and insurance industries, notarization is critical for ensuring the validity of official transactions. There are three instances where RON is particularly useful: 

  • Beneficiary changes and retirement distributions: In certain retirement plans, changing beneficiaries or benefit elections requires spousal consent, which must be recorded by a notary public. RON helps wealth managers and life insurers speed up these changes for their clients. 
  • Establishing trusts: The often long and complicated process of establishing a trust—or a fiduciary arrangement in which a third party, or trustee, holds assets on behalf of a beneficiary—can be simplified with RON. 
  • Auto title transfers: Have you ever sold your car or submitted a total loss claim after an accident? In these instances, when the title of a vehicle is being transferred to a new owner, a notary must be present to authorize the transaction. By using RON, lenders and insurers alike can expedite claim resolution and refinancing. 

Legal services 

Likewise, law firms and other entities in the legal services industry have a number of instances where RON can expedite and streamline the notarization process. These include: 

  • Affidavits and motions: Affidavits, or written statements from individuals sworn to be true, are among the most frequently notarized documents in litigation, alongside motions, or written requests from the court to make a legal ruling. 
  • Power of attorney: Instating a power of attorney, or a person who can act on behalf of another person, also requires notarization. 
  • Deeds: Legal documents that transfer ownership of real property from one person or entity to another must also be notarized. 

State and local governments 

State and local governments use RON in several circumstances, including: 

  • Quitclaim deeds: Transferring a public or private property to a grantee requires a signed and notarized quitclaim deed. 
  • Notarized child custody agreement: This agreement explains how an individual and their former partner will co-parent their children and must be notarized, along with other use cases in family court and child welfare. 

Additional use cases across sectors

There are a number of other circumstances in which RON is useful outside the above-mentioned industries. They include: 

  • Real estate transactions
  • Business services 
  • Technology 
  • Internal corporate notarizations 
  • HR documents 
  • Corporate lease agreements  
  • Retail rental agreements 
  • Certificates of incumbency 

Make business more efficient with DocuSign Notary 

Now that you know about the benefits of RON, you may be interested in using RON to fulfill your team’s notarization obligations. But before settling on a vendor, make sure the one you have in mind is reputable, meets your states’ legal requirements and helps uphold notarization best practices.

DocuSign Notary provides your notaries public the digital tools they need to securely conduct RON acts. It’s built on DocuSign eSignature, making it easy for you to send, sign and notarize agreements, all within DocuSign. Learn more about how Notary can help you do business faster, create more convenient signer experiences and mitigate risk.

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