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On June 7, 2019, to the delight of some practitioners and the horror of others, the future of remote notarization and electronic wills became a reality in Florida. With the passage of House Bill 409 into law as Laws of Florida Ch. 2019-71, titled “Notaries Public — Electronic Transactions” (the act), Florida has taken a great step forward into the world of technological advancements by allowing notaries to perform notarial acts remotely using audio-video communication technology and enabling the execution of electronic wills. The act becomes effective on January 1, 2020 (except the provisions relating to electronic wills, which become effective on July 1, 2020), giving notaries and lawyers a short window of time to familiarize themselves with the new legislation and prepare for a new technological age of remote notarization and electronic wills.

The act does three things. First, it adds a new Part II to F.S. Ch. 117, which governs the online notarization of electronic documents. It also amends various other provisions of the Florida Statutes concerning transactional documents that are required to be notarized or witnessed to incorporate references to remote notarization. Lastly, the act includes provisions recognizing and regulating electronic wills and other estate planning documents.

Remote Online Notarization

The act is heavy on the nuts and bolts of becoming an online notary public and how to accomplish a remote notarial act, including details on the recording requirement, electronic journaling, witnessing electronic documents, and security and storage of electronic documents by qualified custodians.

At the outset, it should be noted that electronic documents are not new to Florida. In 2000, the legislature adopted the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act, and in 2007, it adopted the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act. The act took electronic documents to another level by making it possible for documents to be notarized online when the notary and the principal are in different physical locations and are connected only via audio-video communication technology.

The legislation refers to the person whose signature the online notary is acknowledging electronically as the principal (distinguished from the principal who signs a power of attorney under Ch. 709). The person who performs a remote notarial act and is registered with the Department of State to do so is referred to as the “online notary public.” The acronym RON stands for “remote online notary,” and the software companies that offer the necessary technology are called RON service providers. The statute requires online notarizations to occur using “audio-visual communication technology,” meaning technology in compliance with applicable law that enables real-time, two-way communication using electronic means in which participants can see, hear, and communicate with one another. F.S. §117.225 provides detailed instructions setting the requirements for registration as an online notary public in Florida, including requiring online notary publics to be both bonded and insured.

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