With bank lobbies closed and large numbers of people working from home to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are without reliable notaries public or do not want to risk potential exposure to the virus through physical interactions. This has many scrambling to comply with critical deadlines or otherwise take care of business. However, fortunately, Florida has joined the ranks of states that permit online notarial acts, and people can have their documents notarized from the comfort of their own homes or offices, even if outside of Florida.
But not so fast! Not just any notary public can complete online notarizations.
If you are in need of an online notary public, look for someone who holds the designation of a Remote Online Notary service provider, or “RON.” This notary public has registered with the State as an online notary, posted a $25,000.00 bond, holds $25,000.00 of errors and omissions insurance and has completed the required educational course.
Once a qualified online notary public is selected and retained, the online public notary will confirm the identity of the signer either through personal knowledge or through the following: (1) remote presentation of the signer government-issued ID, (2) authentication of the ID, and (3) knowledge-based authentication, which involves answering at least five questions within a two-minute time span, such as what vehicles the signer has owned or where they have lived.
The signer will then appear before the online notary public by means of audio-video communication technology that allows for real-time, two-way communication in which the participants are able to see, hear, and communicate with one another. This technology will be used to record the signer and the online notary public as they complete the signing of the document in question and the required notarial act.
See? The process is easy enough, but please keep in mind that it still takes longer than in-person notarization, and because most notaries are not RON’s and many people are seeking out RON’s right now due to COVID-19, finding an available qualified notary can be difficult. Those seeking notarial services—especially those under deadline—should prepare their documents and retain a RON to complete the notarial act as soon as possible.
Also note, that online notaries are unable to solemnize marriages or notarize probate instruments until July 2020.
If, someone is up against a deadline and absolutely cannot find a RON or an in-person notary to perform a required notarial act, the Florida Supreme Court issued Administrative Order AOSC20-16 on March 18, 2020, which temporarily allows oaths to be administered remotely for testimony, depositions, and other out-of-court legal testimony, so long as the notary or other qualified person can positively identify the “witness” via audio-video communications equipment. This arguably could provide a basis for allowing any notary that is not a RON to perform a remote notarial act. Please keep in mind though that the AOSC20-16 is not entirely clear and might apply to only testimony like depositions, where there is a requirement that the individual administering the oath be physically present—and not to non-litigation-related documents such as documents required to close real estate deals or comply with Florida’s Construction Lien law.