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During these times of “social distancing” due to the COVID-19 crisis, notaries within law firm also need to practice physical distancing while complying with the in-person personal appearance requirements of notary laws in most states.
Although many states have closed or suspended court functions, litigators still need to have clients to sign affidavits and verifications for cases to progress. Notary laws generally contain the requirement for the notary and the principal signer to be in “close physical proximity” during a notarization. With a little thought and preplanning, notaries can employ social distancing practices to reduce the amount of physical contact and time they need to spend with the signer.
For an example, review the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office’s steps for notaries to reduce exposure during a notarization while still satisfying the statutory requirements for a legal notarization:
- Wear gloves and a mask and provide them for the principal signers.
- Eliminate physical contact. Do not shake hands.
- Do not share pens. Have all parties bring their own and sanitize after usage or gift them.
- Always keep a safe distance from the principal (minimum of six feet). Standing at the opposite ends of a six-foot conference table or passing documents through a bank teller’s glass window satisfies the personal appearance requirement.
- Do not touch the identification. View it from the desk or tabletop
- Arrange the documents such that each document needing to be notarized is grouped together, so that the amount of time being spent with the signer can be dramatically reduced.
- Have the signer sign all signatures that require an acknowledgment prior to meeting the notary. (Acknowledged signatures do not need to be signed in front of the notary; they simply must be acknowledged.)
- Identify each page requiring a signature to be notarized prior to the notarial act so you can have the signer acknowledge each signature simultaneously. Doing so will allow the notary to notarize in bulk: “Do you acknowledge that you willingly signed pages 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12?”
Law firms may also provide “drive-through” notary services so that clients do not have to leave their vehicles and may simply pass documents through a window. While notaries may also make “house calls,” they should be very cognizant of the inhabitants within to make sure they are not causing undue exposure to people vulnerable to the virus.
John Austin is with Austin Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also serves as a cochair of the Section of Litigation's Trial Practice Committee.
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