North Carolina Video Notary Update
On May 4, 2020, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Session Law 2020-3 to relax the legal requirements associated with the execution of legal documents. The new law was passed in direct response to COVID-19 and the associated need for social distancing. The law relaxes the execution requirements in three major ways: (1) video witnessing is now permitted; (2) video notarization is now permitted; and (3) health care directives no longer require witnesses.
Many legal documents require that the person signing the document do so in the presence of witnesses. Traditionally, the law has construed "presence" to require physical presence. Even though technological advances have made it relatively easy to have direct, real-time audio and video interaction between individuals in different location, the law has not, until now, treated video conferences as satisfying the presence requirement. The new law changes that, for just a short time period.
Under the new law, witnesses will be deemed to have signed in the presence of the principal signer if the witnesses and the principal signer all sign while connected via video conference that allows for real-time audio and video interaction between the parties. Because the parties will be in different physical locations, the new law anticipates that they will be signing counterparts of the same document, rather than the same sheet of paper.
The new law has some key limitations. First, it only applies until August 1, 2020. At that time, the law reverts back to requiring physical presence. Second, the law only applies if the witnesses and the principal signer are all physically located in North Carolina at the time of signing. Any document signed by video conference must identify the county in which the witnesses and principal signer were physically present at the time of execution.
Traditionally, in order for a notary public to acknowledge that a documents was signed by a person, the notary had to be physically present when the person signed the document. Under the new law, a notary public may now acknowledge a signing that they observe by video conference. The video conference must occur in real time (i.e., not be a recording) and allow for direct audio and visual interaction between the parties. The video conference technology used must also be capable of being recorded, but there is no requirement that the conference actually be recorded. (However, it is highly recommended.) As with all notarial acts, the notary must confirm the signer's identity, typically with a government issued photo id.
Video notarization under the new law has limitations that are similar to those that apply to video witnessing. First, video notarization is not made permanent and is only permitted through August 1, 2020. Also, video notarization only is permitted if all of the parties are physically present in North Carolina. Additionally, the notary must include a statement on the document that the notarization was done pursuant to the new law and keep a journal for 10 years that memorializes the details of all video notarizations performed.