By David Thun
(Originally published in the November 2012 issue of The National Notary magazine)
The National Notary magazine asked experts in law, government and education to share some of the most commonly made errors that can land Notaries in trouble.
Failing To Require Personal Appearance By A Signer: Experts all agreed that failing to require a signer to physically appear before you is the most common mistake that lands Notaries in serious legal hot water. Notarizing without a signer’s personal appearance is violation of law in every state and territory, and can result in major financial and legal penalties. Lori Hamm, Notary Compliance and Education Officer for the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, described a case in which a man claimed his signature was forged on a notarized quitclaim deed filed during divorce proceedings. The Notary admitted that she had done notarizations in the past where she spoke with signers by telephone to ask if they signed documents. The Notary’s commission was suspended.
Failing To Properly Record Notarial Acts: Too many Notaries fail to keep a record of their notarial acts, especially in states that do not require it. But that’s a problem because a properly maintained journal is your best protection if someone makes a claim against you, said California attorney Richard Busch, who represents Notaries for Merchants Bonding Company. In essence, your journal is a record that you did everything right. Without the journal, you could find yourself trying to remember a notarization that might have happened years earlier. In addition, a poorly kept journal record can convince courts that you were sloppy and didn’t take the job seriously.
Failing To Obtain Satisfactory Proof Of Identity From A Signer: “Unless the signer personally appears and presents a valid ID, the Notary just cannot do the notarization. Period.” Busch said. “Otherwise, they will likely end up being sued, since more than likely there is a fraud being perpetrated.”
Engaging In The Unauthorized Practice Of Law: While most Notaries would never walk into a courtroom pretending to be a lawyer, many don’t realize something as simple as telling a signer what notarization to choose or answering questions about a document is the unauthorized practice of law, which could lead to a lawsuit and other legal problems for the Notary. For example, Laura Biewer, a veteran NNA seminar instructor, says many of her students have been asked by signers to help complete forms they bring in to be notarized — but Notaries aren’t permitted to do so. Non-attorney Notaries should never prepare, complete or answer questions about a signer’s documents.
Making Mistakes On The Notarial Certificates: While writing incorrect information on certificate wording or forgetting to write in information is often done accidentally, it’s a situation that can cause major headaches for a signer and trouble for Notaries if a problem with a document results. For example, Lori Hamm described how if a Notary doesn’t complete the wording on documents for a car purchase properly, the buyer may not be able to take title and must spend time tracking the Notary down in order to take ownership. Be especially careful with business transactions, Hamm warned, because if someone loses money as a result, they are likely to hold the Notary responsible for any money lost. “Not paying attention to notarial wording and the law gets you in trouble,” she said.