Early last month, Florida’s Governor signed into law Chapter 2019-71 creating a new section in Chapter 117 of the Florida Statutes entitled “Online Notarizations.” The new law authorizes and provides oversight for the use of Remote Online Notarizations (“RON”) by Florida notaries. While Florida follows a number of states joining this national trend expanding the use of electronic records in commercial transactions, the new legislation puts Florida at the forefront of states recognizing the validity of electronic legal documents, such as notes, mortgages and deeds, by authorizing their electronic creation, remote execution, remote notarization, and remote witnessing – even when witnesses are in separate locations from both the notary and the main signer. The new statute becomes effective on January 1, 2020 and is expected to add convenience to the traditionally cumbersome task of acknowledging documents required to be executed in the presence of a Notary Public.
According to the sponsors of the legislation, RON is now “possible because of improvements in audio-video communication technologies, such as FaceTime and Skype, where two or more people may be able to both see and hear one another in real time using a computer or mobile device, even from different states.” HB 409, Judiciary Committee Summary. Advances in technology allow a notary public to “view the face of the principal signer and any witnesses using audio-video technology while simultaneously reviewing the identification and other credentials of each person.” Id. Upon its effective date, any document that must be notarized or witnessed on paper may be notarized or witnessed remotely. Importantly for real estate practitioners and lenders, the law requires clerks of the court to accept electronically signed and notarized documents for recording in the public records.
Florida notaries wishing to participate in this process must be separately registered as remote online notaries with the Florida Department of State. Additionally, notaries will need to complete minimum mandatory education courses and carry a $25,000 bond and errors and omissions insurance policy. Notaries will also be required to maintain electronic journals and backups, including audio-visual recordings, for a minimum of 10 years. And, while the parties signing need not be in Florida, the notary must be physically present in the state in order to perform the RON.
The new statute addresses issues surrounding the need for a party’s consent to the online notarization and identity-proofing to prevent fraud. Notaries must still verify the identity of the person signing either by personal knowledge or presentation of government issued identification. Additionally, the statute provides guidelines for how to analyze credentials and forms of identification as well as identity-proofing through knowledge-based authentication. Among these is the requirement of the notary to pose a series of required questions to verify the identity of the signer not unlike methods currently used by credit card companies. For example, verifying mother’s maiden name, brand of first car or the name of a childhood friend or pet of the signer.
Regulations further outlining the mechanics of RON are expected in the coming months. In the meantime, for more information on remote online notarization in Florida, contact the attorneys at Starfield & Smith at (215) 542-7070 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.