By John Kenneth Cole
Imagine yourself as an immigrant who’s just arrived in the United States. The border agent gives you a handbook entitled “A Guide for New U.S. Citizens,” opens the entry doors to the United States and says, “Have a nice life.”
Now consider you are applying for a Notary commission in one of the 31 states that do not have testing or training requirements for Notaries Public. You receive your commission, pay your fee to the state, obtain your seal, and set up shop — but you don’t have enough information to guide you through your first assignment. What type of notarization is needed? What information should you record in the journal? Are you even required to keep a journal? How much are you legally allowed to charge as a Notary? Even after reading their state’s Notary handbook, many Notaries are left with more questions than answers. For instance, in Virginia (where I am commissioned), Notaries may be removed from office for the unauthorized practice of law. But a new Notary may not realize that unauthorized practice of law can be as innocuous as recommending to a signer what notarial act is needed for a document.
Sometimes newly commissioned novices seek out other more experienced Notaries to ask questions like, “How do I administer an oath?” or “What’s the difference between a jurat and an acknowledgment?” But not all experienced Notaries are willing to help a new guy and will refuse to share their expertise for fear that the new Notary may be looking to start a rival business.
If all states required commission applicants to complete a basic education course, and to pass a test showing minimum proficiency in the rules and procedures that govern the office of the Notary Public, many “innocent mistakes” could be avoided, reducing the risk of civil and criminal action against a Notary who “just didn’t know” the rules of the road. In the end, Notary education is an inexpensive way to avoid costly litigation and uphold the function of the Notary Public office — to be a guarantor of trust.
Note: The author is a Virginia Notary and recently became the state’s seventh “e-Notary.” He also is part of the NNA’s Member Network and is an NNA 2013 Notary of the Year Honoree.
Check out the NNA’s education offerings.