Notaries in the Age of “Essential Services”

April.28.2020

The patchwork of various “shelter in place” orders across the country – some which define “essential services” very specifically, others which do not – have left companies and individuals in need of notary services in a state of uncertainty regarding their options to have notarized their documents that are needed for the closing of key transactions. 

In approximately 30 states, including Texas and New York, remote notary services will be a cost-effective option for complying with such orders.  Remote notaries substitute video (web cam) interaction for the traditional face-to-face experience in order to witness signatures and notarize documents.  Remote notary services may be obtained from, among other providers, DocVerify, Notarize, NotaryCam, Pavaso, Safedocs, and SIGNiX.   Many states have authorized remote notary services permanently while others, such as New York, have done so on a temporary basis.  See New York Governor Cuomo’s executive order.

Note that even though state law may permit the use of remote notary services, certain county clerk’s offices and/or private escrow or title companies may not.  Taking a proactive approach to communicating with those entities prior to seeking remote notarization is advised.

In states that do not allow remote notarization, such as California, potential options include using a mobile notary service or to have a notary from your office travel from his or her home to the home of the signator.  These options, however, may be precluded by state or county orders.  The specific shelter in place order(s) in the relevant area should be reviewed to determine whether notary services qualify as “essential.”  Some orders specify notary services are essential.  Others state that notary services are essential if they are appurtenant to “essential” services, or are legally required and non-elective, which would again require analysis of the specific order and the particulars of the project at issue. 

If notary work falls under the “essential” definition in your jurisdiction, having the notary visit the home of the signatory (or other place where people are allowed to be) to witness the signatures is a viable option.  Other options may be locations, such as banks, that have notary services available by appointment or otherwise.  In all such instances, social distancing and “no touch” practices are advisable.