A remote notary is a legally commissioned notary public who is authorized to conduct notarizations over the internet via digital tools and a live audio-video call. We have partnered with providers of remote online notarization (or “RON”) in other states, which authorize RON — without requiring the physical presence of the document signer in that state.
The California Secretary of State recently released COVID-19 guidance approving this approach, explaining that although California law – unlike many other states – does not directly provide for RON:
“California citizens who wish to have their documents notarized remotely can obtain notarial services in another state that currently provides remote online notarization. California Civil Code 1189(b) provides that any certificate of acknowledgment taken in another place shall be sufficient in this state if it is taken in accordance with the law of the place where the acknowledgment is made.”
RON enables us to provide complete, fully legally valid estate plans, based on a revocable living trust, with attorney-supervised “virtual” signing ceremonies, while our firm and clients comply with Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order, maintain safe social distancing, and avoid the risk from COVID-19 transmission using in person notarization.
Fully Sufficient Formalities for All Key Estate Plan Documents
* Trusts. California law does not require an instrument creating or amending a trust to be witnessed or notarized to be valid. Notarization is, however, a standard, best-practice, which third-parties, such as real estate and financial companies, often expect when processing trust transactions.
* Powers of Attorney & Advance Health Care Directives. To be valid in California, these instruments must be witnessed or notarized.
* Wills. Although it is debatable whether a California Will can validly be remotely witnessed, California law recognizes a hand-written (or “holographic”) Will, as valid, even if not witnessed, if it is in your handwriting, makes clear it is intended to be your Will, and signed and dated by you. When your estate plan is based on a living trust, your trust is intended to serve as a “will substitute”, which determines the distribution of your (trust) estate, without the need for probate court administration of your estate. A “pour over” Will is thus a “fallback” document, which is mainly needed if an asset is left out of your trust, and needs to be administered by a probate court under the terms of your Will. We can provide you a short, simple holographic pour over Will text, and help see that you properly create it.
* Recording Deeds. We have partnered with real estate companies, which can electronically submit for recording deeds that have been signed with RON in many of the busiest California County Recorder offices. (This service may be unavailable in many other counties.) Clients with real estate need to deed it to their trust in order for it to fully become a trust asset, and notarized signatures are needed to record deeds. Although an un-recorded deed is valid for many purposes, recording is required to provide adequate legal notice of the deed to third parties. California County Recorders have traditionally required “wet” signatures notarized in the physical presence of the signer, but they have for some time permitted real estate companies to electronically submit deeds that are validly notarized under the law of another state authorizing RON. Our alliance with real estate companies that have this capability enables us to assist clients during the COVID-19 crisis to safely and legally record documents, despite the obstacles to in-person notarization and recording.
Our RON provider will contact you before your signing ceremony, to help make sure your computer is properly set up and you are comfortable with and understand the user-friendly software, and to troubleshoot for you as needed. All you need to use RON is:
- Windows or Mac desktop or laptop computer with working webcam & microphone;
- Latest version of Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox browser installed;
- High speed internet (at least 2MB/s); and
- A current driver’s license or state issued ID card
Disclaimer re: Third Party Acceptance
The California Secretary of State guidance on the sufficiency of RON under California law should assure third-parties dealing with your estate plan documents, and we are cautiously optimistic that third-parties presented with estate plan documents created during the unprecedented, exigent circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis will keep an open mind about the validity of RON. The response of third-parties, however, cannot be predicted, and there is a risk that some will be set in their ways and may balk at recognizing a relatively unfamiliar and novel method of notarization using out-of-state notaries and remote online technology.
In Office Notarization Available at No Charge
After the stay-at-home order ends, clients may also, at no extra charge, have us in our Palm Desert office notarize (or re-notarize) the signatures on estate plan documents we prepared.