Many documents, including wills, purchase and sale agreements for real estate, mortgages, promissory notes, health care directive forms, power of attorney authorizations, and notice of liens, among others, often or always require notarization. Under normal circumstances, the notarization of documents must occur in the physical presence of both the notary and the signer. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing and similar directives issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state authorities, complying with the physical presence mandate can be impossible. How then can individuals and businesses safely and effectively obtain notarization while complying with the directives and avoiding COVID-19?
One method is remote online notarization (RON). Remote online notarization is the process by which documents are notarized in an electronic form where the signer and notary are not physically in each other’s presence but can communicate simultaneously using secure audio-video technology.  On April 3, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s significant impact on the ability of notaries public to safely fulfill the duties of their commission, the Rhode Island Secretary of State announced that, in collaboration with the governor’s office, it is temporarily authorizing the performance of RON for the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency in Rhode Island. As part of this temporary authorization for RON, Rhode Island has issued a “Temporary Performance Guide” and amended the “Standards of Conduct for Notaries Public in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”
Importantly, notaries should be careful about the technology aspect of this process. RON requires a pre-approved remote online notarization solution—software apps, including Zoom and FaceTime, are not permitted. As of April 7, 2020, there are two approved providers—DocVerify, Inc., and Pavaso (Guardian Consumer Services). Remote online notarization solution providers seeking inclusion on the pre-approved vendor list may submit a solution provider application  to the Rhode Island Secretary of State.
The Rhode Island Secretary of State has set forth a comprehensive registration process, which must be completed before a notary may perform a RON. Specifically, a duly commissioned notary must first complete the following steps:
After completing the registration process, a duly commissioned notary must complete the following steps to perform a RON.
The temporary authorization of remote online notarization will allow transactions to take place and legal documents needed by individuals to be finalized without violating social distancing mandates. However, businesses and notaries should familiarize themselves with the Secretary of State’s Temporary Performance Guide, and the updated Standards of Conduct to ensure compliance with the RON process.
The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of the firm. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel. If you have any questions or require any further information regarding these or other related matters, please contact your regular Nixon Peabody LLP representative. This material may be considered advertising under certain rules of professional conduct.