By Peg Ritenour, Ohio REALTORS

Vice President of Legal Services

 

Social distancing has made many aspects of a real estate transaction a challenge, including the notarization of documents involved in the transfer of real estate. Luckily Ohio was ahead of the curve, passing legislation in 2017 that allows for “online” or remote notarization of documents.

 

Many REALTORS are probably just now learning how these new provisions in Ohio law can be utilized to facilitate closings. In some cases, there has been confusion because the terms online notarization and electronic notarization are often used interchangeably. In fact, they are two different ways to notarize documents with different requirements. Most importantly, a notary must obtain a separate authorization from the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State to notarize documents remotely, while electronic notarization does not require any additional credential.

 

The Secretary of State’s Office provides the following explanation on its website:

A notary public with an active commission in Ohio may perform electronic notarizations without any additional authorization from our office. An electronic notarization is a notarial act performed by a notary public using his or her electronic seal and electronic signature on a digital document. An electronic notarization is an in-person act where the notarial act procedures remain the same. The requirements include personal appearance, verifying the identity of the signer, completion of the notarial certificate by affixing the notary’s electronic signature and electronic seal to the certificate.

 

An online notarization is a notarial act performed by an Ohio notary public who has been authorized to perform online notarizations when a signer personally appears before the notary using audio-visual technology instead of being physically present in the same location as the notary.  An online notarization requires the use of an online notarization system to perform the act as the signer is not located in the same location as the notary.

 

To perform an online notarization, a notary public must be authorized by the Secretary of State’s Office.  To be authorized the notary must file an online authorization application showing proof of the completion of a 2 hour education program, passing a test and stating the name of the online notarization system/vendor to be used. All notaries public authorized to perform online notarizations must be legal residents of Ohio and may only perform online notarizations when they are located in Ohio, although the signer can be outside of Ohio or outside of the United States at the time of the act.  

 

It is important for REALTORS, their clients and title companies to discuss the social distancing practices that will be utilized to close a transaction, including the notarization of documents. If remote notarization will be necessary due to COVID-19 concerns or the quarantine of any of the parties, rest assured that this is possible, as long as the attorney or closing officer has obtained the necessary credential to notarize documents online.

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