On March 30 Governor Larry Hogan signed an emergency notary Order allowing documents in Maryland to be signed remotely. This was an emergency order meant to help keep notaries and those people signing documents critical enough to require a notary. It’s unfortunately useless as issued.
Deeds and Powers of Attorney for Property require a notary. Other documents like trusts, assignments, and promissory notes are generally notarized but may not require them.
Maryland law was already set to allow electronic signatures in many circumstances, to become effective on October 1, 2020. However, that law specifically exempts wills and trusts.
My understanding is that the Governor’s Order allows for remote signings, meaning that the person must sign the document, and the notary must see this signature, on video. This must also be recorded, and that recording must be saved and available. A list of vendors was suggested to accomplish this. However, we couldn’t find one that fit the Maryland Requirements. They all allowed the signer to create an electronic signature, and affix that to the document, which is not in compliance with the Emergency Order.
More confusion ensued when my assistant called the Secretary of State’s office and assured that a signature affixed to the document, and not signed, is just fine. This is no reassurance of validity.
Although the Emergency Notary Order was certainly well-intended, the execution is too problematic. We have elected to go to our clients, bring a witness, and notarize outside their home, from a safe distance. We have a copier that runs on the car cigarette lighter to print copies of the signature pages. It’s less safe for all concerned but undoubtedly produces rock-solid documents.
We have requested a clarification of the Order. Given that we are all “winging it” through this crisis, we are hopeful that the Order will be amended to correct its flaws.
Stay safe, but don’t stall on getting your estate planning in place. We are doing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and Health Care Powers of Attorney, which are needed now more than ever.