A Guide to Remote Online Notarization

As we become more and more 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 remote online notarization (RON) technology, notarization is experiencing its own digital upgrade.

In addition to making business more efficient and improving the customer experience, notarizing documents with the help of a remote notary helps mitigate risk and fraud throughout the notarization process. Many states have already adopted RON legislation to allow a remote notary to notarize documents, and the trend has only accelerated since many people were forced to work remotely during the pandemic and have continued to do so.

In this notarization guide, 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 a notary?
  • What does it mean to notarize a document? 
  • Can you notarize your own documents?
  • What is remote online notarization (RON)? 
  • Which types of documents can I notarize with RON?
  • What are the general criteria for performing RON?
  • What are the benefits of using RON?
  • Does RON describe all electronic or remote notarizations? 

What is a notary?

A notary, also known as a notary public, is a public officer appointed by a government authority, such as a state or country, to serve as an impartial witness in the signing of legal documents. The primary function of a notary is to help prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of legal transactions.

What does it mean to notarize a document?

To notarize a document means to have it certified by a notary public. Notarization involves the official verification of the authenticity of signatures on legal documents and the confirmation of the identity of the parties involved in the transaction. When a document is notarized, a notary public acts as an impartial witness to the signing of the document.

Once the notary has verified the identity of all signers and witnessed the signing of the document, they will typically affix their official seal or stamp to the document, along with their signature and other relevant details such as the date and location. This certification by the notary serves as evidence that the document was properly executed and that the parties involved were identified and witnessed by an authorized official.

Can you notarize your own documents?

No, you cannot notarize your own documents. Even if you are a notary public, by law you are only allowed to notarize documents for other people. Notaries are expected to remain neutral and objective, so they cannot notarize documents in which they are a party or have a stake. This helps to maintain the credibility and reliability of notarized documents.

At the core of these restrictions is the need to maintain impartiality and prevent a conflict of interest. Not only are notaries public forbidden from notarizing their own documents, they are also not allowed to notarize any documents in which they have a personal interest. For example, if a notary public’s spouse was selling their business, that notary public would not be allowed to notarize the sale documents because they have a financial interest in the transaction. 

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 communication 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. 

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, health and life sciences. In addition, there are plenty of other applications for RON in business services, technology, retail and many more sectors.

Financial services and insurance

In the financial services and insurance industries, notarization is critical for ensuring the validity of certain transactions. The types of financial documents that may require notarization and may qualify for RON include:

  • Beneficiary changes and retirement distributions: In certain retirement plans, changing beneficiaries or benefit elections requires spousal consent, which often must be recorded by a notary public. RON helps wealth managers and life insurers speed up these changes for their clients. 
  • Power of attorney: An important legal document that appoints a designated individual or entity with the authorization to make decisions on behalf of another person. There’s often urgency around creating and signing these documents, as the grantor may be undergoing a medical crisis or may need to get their financial affairs in order quickly. The traditional notarization process can be cumbersome and inefficient, resulting in time delays that add to the stress the principal is already feeling. Where applicable, RON can considerably speed up this process.
  • 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 accelerated with RON. 
  • Auto title transfers: In the instance of selling a car or submitting a total loss claim, when the title of a vehicle is being transferred to a new owner, a notary may need to be present to notarize 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, where documents need to be notarized and qualify for RON. 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. 
  • 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 may be required to 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 
  • Internal corporate notarizations 
  • HR documents 
  • Corporate lease agreements  
  • Retail rental agreements 
  • Certificates of incumbency 

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 COVID-19 pandemic. The criteria for performing RON varies slightly by state, but most jurisdictions include 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, electronic seals and in some cases, digital certificates
  • Reliance on recordings, electronic journaling (i.e. digital audit trail creation) and storage
  • Adherence to common data privacy principles

The foundation of current RON legislation—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, auditability, security and data privacy.

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 seated and commissioned, the remotely and digitally notarized document is legally effective, like a  traditionally notarized document—and should be recognized as such anywhere in the country. But you should make sure and check with your state and local authority to make sure this applies for the type of document and transaction you are trying to complete using RON.

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 seated in and commissioned by a state with active RON legislation and comply with all applicable laws. Again, you should check with your local jurisdiction to ensure RON is appropriate for your use case.

For more information about the validity of RON across state lines or laws governing RON in your state, browse our RON Legality Guide.

What are the benefits of using RON?

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

Convenience and increased access for a better customer experience

With RON, signers can remotely sign and notarize agreements without gathering in the same physical location as the notary public. RON also makes notarization more accessible to people who lack the time or ability to travel to meet with a notary public, allowing:

  • Multiple notary groups to collaborate asynchronously: Deliver added flexibility by empowering multiple signers to complete notarizations of the same agreement but at different times.
  • Reusable templates to streamline processes: Easily create templates for frequently used types of documents that need to be notarized, including notary-specific tags and custom fields.

Fraud minimization

Notarization is meant to ensure that both the person signing a document and the notary public are who they say they are. RON takes authentication even further than in-person notarization by using established identity proofing technologies, including:

  • Identity verification of signer through ID document: RON uses secure identity proofing technologies to review and verify the identity of the signer and notary public prior to starting the notarial session.
  • Knowledge-based authentication (KBA): In addition to verification of ID documents noted above, many states require knowledge-based authentication. 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. 
  • Digital certificates to verify notary public identity: Maximize trust and identity assurance of notaries public with digital certificates to attach to each notarial transaction and render the finalized document “tamper-evident.” 

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. Some states also require a digital certificate for each notarial transaction
  • Robust audit trail: The electronic journal and audio-visual recording serve as evidence of a completed notarial act.

Does RON describe all electronic or remote notarizations?

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

  • In-person electronic notarization (IPEN): IPEN was the first foray into electronic notarization. While, like RON, it involves the use of electronic documents, electronic signatures 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 notarizes it and sends it back to the appropriate party.

Paper document(s) & ink signatures

Digital document(s) & electronic signatures

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

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.

Check out how remote online notarization works with Docusign Notary:

Learn more about how Notary can help you do business faster, create more convenient signer experiences and mitigate risk.