New RULONA Amendment Gives More Flexibility

Mississippi adopted RULONA, which went into effect on July 1, 2021. Known as the Mississippi Revised Law on Notarial Acts, the law updates Mississippi notary laws, but does not allow remote online notarization (RON) or remote ink-signed notarization (RIN). Until September 28, 2021, and unless Governor Reeves extends the State of Emergency again, Executive Order 1467 temporarily authorized Mississippi notaries to perform RON and RIN. A lot of agents have taken advantage of this temporary authorization. Without an amendment to Mississippi’s new law or an extension of the State of Emergency, RON and RIN will no longer be available for use by Mississippi notaries.

According to Michael O’Neal, vice president of corporate underwriting for First American Title Insurance Co., it’s not news to anyone in the title industry that there has been an explosion of interest in remote online notarization (RON) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year also saw growing interest in paper alternatives to the RON experience.

Performing a RON requires using electronic documents signed with electronic signatures. That means all parties to the transaction, from the lender to the county recorder, must be willing and able to accept a “native digital” document—a document that has never existed in paper form. It’s clear that the long-term trend of our industry is toward paperless closings, even if there may always be a need for paper in some cases. RON is certainly the future. But, for many, the pandemic put a premium on doing remote closings now. Given the short-term hurdles to achieving digital alignment across the entire real estate industry, remote closings have by necessity included using traditional paper processes.

Since last year, we have seen two principal paper alternatives to RON. The first is commonly called PRON (paper remote online notarization) and the second is known as remote ink-signed notarization (RIN). Both involve the use of pen and paper instead of electronic documents. The main difference between the two is that PRON uses the same fraud-reducing consumer protections as RON, such as third-party multifactor authentication to identify the signer, while RIN lacks such consumer safeguards. Remarkably, in some states RIN does not even require the retention of an audio-video recording of the notarization. Finally, the way the paper documents are physically handled—including how they are transmitted to the notary and when the notary completes the notarial certificate—may vary between PRON and RIN. Performing a proper PRON will result in a single, notarized paper document that conforms to settled notarial law and practice, while RIN often does not.

Thus, PRON is safer and sounder than RIN both for consumers and for businesses (like the title industry) that rely on notarized documents. And by requiring third-party multifactor identity proofing, PRON also aligns with ALTA’s principles for remote notarization.

A New ‘Hip Pocket’ Amendment
The Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA) was adopted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) in 2018 to enable both a fully digital RON as well as PRON. It is now enacted in 17 states and is under consideration in several others. To perform a PRON under RULONA, a notary must meet three requirements relating to how the paper document is handled. First, under §14A(c)(2) a notary must reasonably confirm that the document being notarized is the same document that the remotely located individual signed. Second, §15(a)(1) requires the notary to contemporaneously execute the notarial certificate with the performance of the notarization. Finally, §15(f) requires the notary to securely attach the notarial certificate to the notarized paper document.

Until this year, there were two basic ways to perform a PRON under RULONA to meet these requirements. However, both methods could be a slightly awkward fit for how some real estate settlements are conducted. In response to this concern, the ULC convened a working group in late 2020 to draft a “hip pocket” amendment to RULONA to give state legislatures a thoroughly vetted option to add new flexibility to PRON.

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