With the pandemic complicating routine in-person meetings between lawyers and their clients, appointments are now often carried out virtually. Many people talk to their lawyers over videoconferencing links today, and prefer the convenience.
Not all legal appointments can be carried out remotely, however. Estate planning appointments, for instance, require client signatures, as well as notarization. Remote notarization is a possibility in some locations; in addition, some states have permitted this form of notarization as a temporary measure during the pandemic. Nevertheless, a virtual signature isn’t always as reliable as a real pen-and-ink signature by the parties involved.
If you need to sign legal documents, how do you know if doing it virtually is just as valid and reliable as doing it in person? There are five ideas to keep in mind before you make a choice.
Understand the Laws of Your State
Each state has different laws to specify the ways in which documents are to be validated with signatures. If your state has emergency virtual signature allowances in place, you need to talk to a lawyer to find out if those laws are permanent, or if they will be withdrawn once the pandemic passes. Keeping up with the laws of your state is important if there are to be no challenges for improper notarization thrown up in the future.
Your Location is a Significant Detail
In some states, the law requires that all virtual notarization be done entirely in-state. This means that while you don’t need to be in the same room as the notary to sign your document, you do need to be present in the same state. For example, if you are present in Boston, but need to put down a virtual signature with a notary in Manchester, New Hampshire, it would only be possible if the subject under consideration were a matter to do with New Hampshire.
Virtual Signatures and Wet Signatures
Services like DocuSign are allowed in some states. Working with these services results in documents validated by electronic signatures. In other states, however, you would need a notary to see you via videoconferencing link as you signed your documents. You would then need to physically send the papers to the notary to have them process the notarization. With such a process, you get papers with wet signatures. Documents notarized fully with e-signatures are a recent phenomenon, and are untested. Should your document be called into question in court at some point, a wet signature could give you greater protection.
Keep Potential Lawsuits in Mind
If you’re creating an estate plan, and believe that its legitimacy may be questioned in court once you’re no longer around — say, because you plan to cut someone out — it would typically be a good idea to give virtual signatures a pass. Such signatures would only give anyone challenging your estate plan in court that much more ammunition against you. In-person notarizations are far more reliable when complications are foreseen.
Being Careful with Prenuptial Agreements
If you are signing a prenuptial agreement, doing it in the physical presence of a notary is a good idea. Virtual signatures tend to create unexpected complications, especially if you are physically in a different state when you sign your document virtually. These signatures may be ruled invalid by a court at some point.
Virtual signatures are a good idea for mundane documents. If you foresee that your document will be challenged at some point, however, it would always be a better idea to go with in-person notarizations, as opposed to virtual signatures. However, a lawyer with access to the specifics of your case could give you greater insight into how advisable virtual signatures are likely to be in your situation.