Michigan Changes to Signing, Witnessing and Notarizing Legal Documents During this Pandemic

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By Amber Solar, Esq.

A new executive order issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer is great news for those in need of legal services.  Executive Order 2020-41 allows for the signing, witnessing, and notarization of legal documents to be done without the need for everyone to be in the same room.

What Does This Mean?

In the state of Michigan, there are several legal documents that must be at a minimum signed in front of a notary to be valid and effective.  Generally speaking, the notary must be present during the signing and verify the signer’s identity.  This new order allows the notary to witness the signing virtually through a program such as FaceTime, Teams, or Zoom. 

The same goes for witnesses to a document signing.  It has long been a requirement that witnesses be physically present in the same room as the individual signing the legal document.  Now, the witnesses can be present through the use of a digital meeting program and then electronically sign their name on the document.

Why is This Important?

In this time of great uncertainty, many are quickly trying to ensure all of their ducks are in a row should something unexpected happen to them.  Estate planning in particular has moved to the top of a lot of to do lists and more and more people are wanting to make sure they have an enforceable will and power of attorney in place.

Until today, the problem was that a will and power of attorney require two witnesses and a notarization to be effective.  Because of the Stay Home Orders, attorneys have been unable to schedule meetings to ensure these important signing take place, thus putting the effective date of many of these documents on hold in a time when they may be the most needed.

Members of the State Bar’s Estate Planning and Elder Law and Disability rights sections have been working hard with the legislature and the Governors office to ensure these critical issues were addressed.

Other important areas that will be greatly helped by the loosening of the in person signing requirements includes documents provided to the Register of Deeds, probate documents, and documents needed on matters related to guardianships.

How does it work?

To comply with the order, all of the parties whose signatures are required on a document will meet remotely through a video conferencing program of their choice.  It should be noted that the chosen program must have recording capabilities and record the entire session.  This recording must then be maintained for a period of at least three years.

If the notary is not familiar with the individual signing or the witnesses, Id’s must be shown by holding the ID up close to the camera.  The notary and the witnesses will then need to be shown the heading of the document that is being signed and take note.

After signatures of the signor and any witnesses are provided, the notary can either notarize using an electronic notarization program or have the documents scan, faxed, or mailed to them and sign once they are received.  The completed document can be transmitted back to the signatory upon full completion. If you are a Michigan Resident looking to have an estate plan drafted or amended during the Stay Home Orders, we at Gravis Law would be happy to help.  We have the capacity to provide both witnesses and notaries to ensure your important estate planning documents are completed and effective quickly.