Buying a new home is exciting, but no one really enjoys coming to an attorney’s office to sign documents. It’s not convenient, and you often have to sit in a waiting room for a long time.
Origin Title and Escrow makes it easy to sign closing documents by sending an attorney to the borrower’s home or office.
Georgia does not have a remote notary law yet, so many real estate closing documents must still be signed with ink on paper, with a notary and witness physically present.
The attorney is not simply witnessing and notarizing the closing documents, but will be answering questions and handling the full closing process from beginning to end. When done correctly, mobile closings are fantastic at making closing on a loan convenient.
We have been doing mobile closings since 2004. For refinances, we drive to a borrower’s home or office.
Mobile closings are much easier for a primary residence refinance because there is a three-day right of rescission before funding the loan, which gives us time to send everything back to the lender.
It is more difficult to do a mobile closing with investment refinances or purchase closings because sending wires and cutting checks cannot be done remotely. We often are required to send signed closing documents to get funding approval from the lender.
Mobile closings are fine and legal if there is an attorney present at signing, and the full closing process is being handled by a duly licensed Georgia Attorney. ‘Witness Only Closings’ are prohibited, where the only participation of an attorney is simply getting the closing documents signed.
Origin Title and Escrow handles the closing process all the way from title search, signing, funding, title insurance, and filing documents. For mobile closings, we send one of our attorneys to review the documents and get the documents signed. Having a notary go out by themselves to get closing documents signed is unethical and violates the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Supreme Court of Georgia Formal Advisory Opinion 86-5 states that the closing of a real estate transaction constitutes the practice of law. Rule 5.5(a) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, (Known as Standard 24 prior to January 1, 2001) states that “A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so.” Formal Advisory Opinion 86-5 was addressing paralegals handling the signing of closing documents for attorneys, but this rule would apply to anyone who is not a lawyer.
Formal Advisory Opinion Number 00-3 states that the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct are not met if the attorney is only available via telephone when signing and reviewing closing documents.
The Opinion further states “The lawyer’s physical presence at a closing will assure that there is supervision of the work of a paralegal which is direct and constant.” A notary or a paralegal may not, by themselves, conduct the signing part of a closing. A duly licensed Georgia attorney must be present at the signing.
Attorneys may delegate certain tasks to paralegals but may not delegate the signing of closing documents to a paralegal or mobile notary, even when the attorney is available by telephone. Mobile closings are great for borrowers, but this may not be completed by a notary without an attorney present at the signing.
Advisory Opinion 2003-2 clarified that it would be ethically improper “for a lawyer to ‘delegate to a nonlawyer the responsibility to ‘close’ the real estate transaction without the participation of an attorney’”. This opinion further states that “one who facilitates the execution of a deed of conveyance on behalf of another within the state of Georgia is engaged in the practice of law. One does not become licensed to practice law simply by procuring a notary seal.” Refinances and other closings involving real estate are subject to the same rules as a purchase closing.
In Georgia, the full closing process must be handled by a duly licensed Georgia attorney. This requirement is not met when a notary facilitates the signing of the closing documents, or when a Georgia attorney does nothing more than witness the signing of closing documents. The unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Georgia punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 and a year in jail (O.C.G.A. § 15-19-56).
These rules were temporarily stayed during the state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to allow an attorney, notary, and witness to be “present” at a closing via video conferencing software. Video closings stopped once the state of emergency was lifted.
These rules may be altered in the future, but for now, a duly licensed Georgia attorney must be present at the signing of real estate closing documents, even if you are signing at your home.
John C. Bennett is a real estate closing attorney and owner of Origin Title and Escrow, Inc.. Since 2003, Origin Title has handled real estate transactions – purchases, refinances, reverse mortgages – quickly and professionally. There will be no surprises, nothing misunderstood. Title searches are thorough and well-reasoned, to avoid unpleasant surprises later down the road. Calculate your closing costs in Georgia or Florida using our calculator or contact Origin Title using this form.