Pennsylvania Act 15 of 2020, signed into law April 20, 2020, authorized this change and became effective on that date. The approved use of “remote online notarization” expires 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
This change allows Pennsylvania residents to “sign” estate planning documents – such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney – electronically from home, if they have a computer equipped with a camera and microphone.
Many laptop computers come equipped with a camera and microphone that allows the simultaneous audio-visual connection required by the new law. A device known as a webcam can provide an audio-visual connection to a desktop computer.
How Remote Online Notarization Works
First, the notary must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of State to perform remote online notarization. The DOS website has a six-step process for notary approval that looks like this:
The duly appointed and commissioned notary public in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who holds a current and unrestricted commission completes the Electronic Notary Public Application and submits it to the Department of State’s Bureau of Elections and Notaries (Bureau). The application is available only on the Department’s website at https://www.notaries.pa.gov. The same form is used for electronic notaries and remote notaries.
The Bureau processes the electronic/remote notary application. The approved applicant will be notified by an email from the Bureau, authorizing the notary to act as an electronic or remote notary until the end of the notary public’s current four-year commission. At this time, all communications state “electronic notarization,” regardless if remote notarization capabilities are sought.
The approved electronic notary logs onto the Department of State’s website at https://www.notaries.pa.gov to select approved electronic/remote notary technology provider(s) (link to ENotary Services/Select Vendors). The electronic/remote notary may select more than one approved electronic/remote notary technology providers from the List of Approved Electronic and Remote Notarization Technology Providers.
The Bureau notifies the selected electronic/remote notarization technology provider(s) that the Pennsylvania notary is authorized to receive an electronic/remote notary technology and has selected their technology.
The notary and the selected electronic/remote notary technology provider work together directly to obtain and pay for an electronic/remote notary technology.
Once an electronic/remote notary technology has been issued to the notary by the approved technology vendor, the technology provider will notify the Department of State through https://www.notaries.pa.gov (Partner Login/Keystone Login) and the notary’s record with the Department will be updated showing that particular electronic/remote notary technology has been issued to that notary. The notary will show as “e-notary capable” on the Department’s searchable public database when the technology vendor notifies the Department that it has given the notary authorization to use its services. The term “e-notary capable” on the Department’s database means that the notary has been authorized to use either an electronic notary solution or a remote notary solution or both.
The notary may now use the selected electronic/remote notary technology until the end of the notary’s current four-year commission or for a lesser period as necessitated by the particular electronic/remote notary technology, whichever is shorter.
Steps 1-6 are repeated at the beginning of each four-year commission.
Last revised 4/20/2020
Second, the notary must use technology approved by DOS to perform the remote online notarization, such as DocVerify, Safedocs, or NotaryCam. Popular videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are NOT approved vendors. Click here to view the complete DOS list of Approved Remote Online Notarization (RON) Vendors.
Using an approved vendor, the notary will verify the identity of the document signer and any witnesses. A person’s identity can be verified online by having the person answer questions that only he or she would likely know the answer to (such as the birth date of a relative, or addresses lived at in the distant past), or by biometrically comparing the person’s face to the photo on his or her identification card.
Signing of the document occurs when the notary (again using the technology of an approved vendor) has an online session in which all the participants can hear and see one another. A participant usually uses a laptop computer equipped with a camera and microphone, or desktop computer equipped with a webcam.
Signers give their approval to having their electronic signatures appear on the document. The technology of an approved vendor will then produce a tamper-evident document that shows the electronic signatures of all participants. That tamper-evident document is the officially notarized document. It must contain a statement that “This notarial act involved the use of communication technology.”
Act 15 of 2020
Prior to the adoption of Act 15 of 2020, the only way a signature could be notarized was for the signer to sign the document in the physical presence of the notary.
In response to the COVID-19 emergency, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted Act 15, which in Subchapter D temporarily amended Pennsylvania’s law on notarial acts to permit remote online notarization. Act 15 went into effect when it was signed by Gov. Wolf on April 20, 2020.
Act 15’s authorization of remote online notarization expires “60 days after termination or expiration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency.”
Under the Act, the notary performing the remote online notarization must be physically located in Pennsylvania, but the signer need not be.
To read all the provisions of Act 15 of 2020, click here.
Estate Planning Documents Requiring Notarization
Under Pennsylvania law, a power of attorney must be signed before a notary and two witnesses.
A will is valid if it has been signed and dated at the end, even without notarization. However, it is much easier to probate the will if language has been added that makes it a “self-proved” will under Pennsylvania probate law. Notarization is one of Pennsylvania’s requirements for a self-proved will.
Other common estate planning documents such as trusts, living wills, and powers of attorney only for health care need not be notarized, but frequently are notarized to enhance validity and acceptance. A living will and health care POA both require two witnesses in order to be valid. Witnesses can sign during a remote online notarization session.