Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that allows for notaries public to remotely perform work central to estate planning, mortgages, and more, in a move local private-sector leaders hailed as crucial during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The bill, which gives notaries public the ability to do business via videoconferencing, passed both the House and Senate and was sent to Governor Charlie Baker, according to legislative officials. Previously, notarizations in Massachusetts could not be done remotely. But in the times of social-distancing, things have changed.
“I think we’re now appreciating how often we use a notary,” said James Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which supported the effort.
A collection of other states already have laws on the books that allow for remote notarizing, according to Rooney. The new proposal would help with everything from wills to license applications and changes to corporate governance filings, he said.
“Being able to do that remotely with controls and procedures is important,” he said.
The proposal allows for notarial acts via video conferencing when the notary public and each principal are physically located within Massachusetts, as well as other provisions. It requires notaries to record the video conference and retain a copy of the conference, as well as related documentation for 10 years, officials said.
Ruth Mattson, a Newton estate planning attorney, said she welcomed the bill’s passage with a sigh of relief. She said she will start scheduling all the signing conferences that have been postponed because of the risks of gathering in person.
“All the clients who have been contacting me week after week to ask about the status of this legislation will be relieved to know that, finally, their plans can be completed,” she said.
Deborah Sousa, executive director of the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, said she recently has received e-mails on a daily basis from her members and attorneys inquiring about the bill’s status. Given the dangers of COVID-19, making people do closings in-person “is just insane,” Sousa said.
“It is so important in this day of social distancing that consumers, both attorneys, and borrowers can close on a mortgage transaction without a face-to-face meeting," she said.
Senate President Karen E. Spilka said in a statement that “allowing for virtual notarization will mean important legal transactions can continue unimpeded, which is good for peace of mind, our economy, and the Commonwealth as a whole.”
“I am pleased to see this legislation advance as it will provide a safe alternative for residents and businesses during this public health crisis,” said the Ashland Democrat.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said during the current public health emergency, “it has been difficult for the public to process certain legal transactions especially those on behalf of those who are sick or dying, therefore the Legislature acted to ensure notaries can conduct business virtually in order to adhere to physical distancing measures.”
“We must make sure that families, individuals, and businesses can execute wills, proxies, real estate transactions, and other important documents during the COVID-19 public health crisis,” DeLeo, a Democrat from Winthrop, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Baker said he will carefully review the final legislation.