Woman virtually estate planning

Notarizing and Witnessing Legal Documents During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Most Americans do not have a Last Will & Testament or any type of estate planning document in place. The coronavirus pandemic has inspired many Southeastern Massachusetts residents to get their estate planning affairs in order. Whether you are finalizing your will, trust, health care proxy, advance health care directive, or durable power of attorney, you will need your documents to be notarized and sometimes witnessed to be legally binding. 

Massachusetts Is Allowing Virtual Notarization During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Powers of attorney and mortgage documents must be notarized. A last will and testament requires witnesses, and so do advance health care directives in Massachusetts. On April 27, 2020, Massachusetts enacted a law allowing for the remote online notarization of legal documents during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By using remote online notarization (RON), the parties involved do not need to meet in person. Instead, people can now have their powers of attorney, deeds, wills, and other documents that normally require the physical presence of a notary public executed in the audio or video presence of a notary public. As with so many other meetings, you can now use Zoom or Cisco Webex to conduct the online session.

Requirements for the Remote Online Notarization Process

Instead, the notary public must record the RON meeting and keep the record for ten years. All RON proceedings in Massachusetts require that the signer of the estate planning document and the notary public are located within Massachusetts. 

For example, if you are in Connecticut visiting relatives, you won’t be able to sign and notarize your documents through the remote online notarization process. Under the new regulations, only a notary public who is also a paralegal working with an attorney, or an attorney, can notarize the following types of documents:

  • Wills 
  • Trusts
  • Powers of attorney
  • Health care proxies
  • Nominations of conservators or guardians
  • Caregiver authorization affidavits
  • Authorization under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

Any other notary public, including non-attorneys, can notarize non-estate planning documents under the RON rules. During the RON, the signer of the document must inform the notary public of everyone in the room with them. He or she will need to show the notary everyone in the room with him or her on video. After the signing, the notary public must prepare and keep an affidavit that describes all of the circumstances of the notarization. 

The Remote Online Notarization Process

After the meeting, you will still need to get a “wet ink” signature on paper because RON doesn’t allow for the online signing of documents. After the RON proceedings, all of the signers must send physical copies of the signed pages with their wet ink signatures to the notary public responsible for witnessing and attesting to the signing. 

What does the process look like when it happens? At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, our clients can meet with their lawyers virtually and review their finalized estate planning documents. Next, one of our notaries would arrange a meeting time for the remote online notarization process. Please note, we also have other options available to facilitate the signing of documents safely. 

After the proceedings, we will guide you through the process. Before the meeting, we will email you a copy of the final legal document and the sheet that you must sign. Our notary will watch you sign the document during the virtual meeting. Once the meeting is over, you can mail the physical copy of the signed page back to the notary public. 

Contact Our Southeastern Massachusetts Estate Planning Lawyers Today

At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, our estate planning law firm is ready to help you create your estate planning documents. We have lawyers and paralegals on staff who are able to help you through the remote online notarization process. We understand that even after all of the coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, some of our clients will not be comfortable coming into the office. We can work with you to help you feel safe. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation. 

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.