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Need To Know: New Laws For 2012

States passed more than 60 new laws in 2011 addressing a wide range of notarial issues — from commissioning procedures to recordkeeping requirements to penalties for misconduct. The dominant legislative trend — driven by continuing instances of real property fraud and revelations of improper conduct in the “robo-signing” crisis — was a fairly broad move toward protecting the public and increasing accountability and liability for Notary misconduct along with an emphasis on following proper procedures and ethical practices.

A synopsis of significant law changes, and their effective dates, follows:

ALABAMA – In a historic move, Alabama increased the required surety bond for new and renewing Notaries from $10,000 to $25,000 — the highest in the nation — effective January 1. That increases the protection for consumers and the liability exposure for Notaries. Surety bonds protect consumers by reimbursing people who lose money because of a Notary’s misconduct up to the bond’s limit. Notaries with a $10,000 bond in force in 2012 or later do not have to obtain the higher $25,000 bond until they renew their commissions. While the bond protects consumers, it does not protect Notaries, who are required to pay back any settlements to the bonding company.

MICHIGAN - Perhaps the strongest legislative initiative that defined this trend was a package of bills enacted in Michigan in October that gives the state the authority to punish individuals and businesses that deliberately falsify documents and notarizations in real estate transactions. As of January 1, 2012, Notaries who knowingly violate the state Notary law in connection with a real estate scheme can be sentenced to up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine...

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