RON, RIN, and IPEN: A Quick Guide to the New Landscape of Electronic Notarization

Organizations with notarization requirements have a variety of options available today due to a wave of legislative changes. Naturally, 2020 created a sense of urgency around finding new ways to accommodate customers who were unable to meet in person.

As of today, over half of the states in the U.S. have permanent legislation allowing notarization to take place without the need for signers to physically be with notaries public in person. Most of the remaining states have temporary legislation, executive orders, and proposed permanent legislation in motion. While we can safely say that we have ‘turned a corner’ in notarization, the various options can be confusing.

Below is a quick guide to understanding the new landscape of electronic notarization. Before we dive in, let’s start with a quick look at the traditional notarization process. 

History of Notarization in the US

Until the last decade, the traditional requirement of notarization was that a signer had to be in the physical presence of the notary public. This practice dates back hundreds of years. In fact, we can actually trace the practice all the way back to ancient Egypt! As the practice evolved, rules and laws formed at a state jurisdictional level in the U.S.

By definition, a notarial act is the act of signing a document in the presence of a state-licensed individual known as a notary public. A notary public can act as a verifier or witness to various legally binding agreements. Their prime responsibility is to verify identities of the parties involved and act as a certifier that a signer is who they say they are and are agreeing to the terms in said document, as well as witnessing the signing act.

In general, the steps required for a notary public to authenticate a signature are:

  • Require a personal appearance

  • Scan over the documents

  • Verify the signer’s identity and screen for willingness and awareness

  • Record a journal entry

  • Complete a notarial certificate

Innovation in the notary space picked up steam about 20 years ago with laws such as the ESIGN Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) that paved the path for bringing electronic signatures on par with ‘wet ink’ signatures. Since then, there has been an abundance of legislative acts allowing for more efficient and convenient ways to perform notarization. 

In-Person Electronic Notary (IPEN) 

In-Person Electronic Notary (IPEN) was the first step in electronic notarization, with many states enacting eNotary legislation allowing for in-person electronic notarization. The steps are generally the same for both traditional notarization and IPEN: the signer appears in person  before the notary public, the notary public identifies the signer, witnesses the signature, signs and affixes the notarial seal/stamp to the document as a notary public, and completes the notarial journal. 

The only difference between traditional and electronic notarization is that technology is used to perform some of the requirements of the notarial act. In a traditional notarization, a pen and rubber stamp are the tools used. For IPEN, the notary uses a computer / tablet and electronic signature technology to perform the signature of the notarial act. Also, with IPEN, the notary public applies a digital stamp or seal and keeps an electronic journal of each act performed for a period of five to seven years (based on each state’s jurisdictional requirements).

Remote Online Notarization (RON)

Many states have enacted Remote Online Notarization (RON) laws, which allow for face-to-face contact to be satisfied online using a combination of audio-visual technology, identity verification and digital audit trail technology to perform notarial acts, thus removing the need for the signer to be in the physical presence of the notary public. A properly performed RON act has the same legal effect as a traditional, paper-based notarization. In addition, RON allows notaries public to validate a signer’s identity securely and more efficiently, helping prevent fraud and reducing risk. 

With RON, signers and notaries public no longer need to meet in person. For signers, this means they don’t need to go through the logistical hassles of meeting a notary public in person, thus saving time. In most use cases, a signer can be virtually anywhere in the US and still get their document notarized remotely, as long as the notary public is seated in a state with RON legislation and meets their state-specific requirements. This became especially helpful under COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, with notarial acts needing to be completed remotely for the health and safety of signers and notaries public.

Remote ink-signed notarization (RIN)  

There is one more area to cover: remote ink-signed notarization (RIN).

RIN was born most recently by state emergency legislation that generally allows the signer and notary public to appear over two-way audio-visual communication. The notary public is required to watch the signer ‘’wet ink’ sign a paper document, the signer then physically mails the signed document to the notary public, who then notarizes with ‘wet ink’ and ‘rubber stamp’, and finally returns the document to the signer. Although this is a form of electronic notarization, RIN is less efficient than RON as it is still paper-based, and is a disjointed experience as the actual notarization happens at a later time outside of the audio-visual session. 

An inflection point in electronic notarization

Remote online notarization is a long-term, fully remote, and electronic solution to an age-old process. It’s currently permitted in just over half of states, with many of the remaining states at various stages of introducing legislation. While IPEN may continue to be a viable solution for specific use cases as well, we are at an inflection point in electronic notarization technology, and it is a perfect time to start adopting new ways to serve customers.

Read more about how electronic signature laws and principles laid the foundation for the advent of remote online notarization in our whitepaper Remote Online Notarization: A Natural Evolution of E-Signature.

Author
Andy Ambrose
Director, DocuSign Notary
Published
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