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Notary Issues From The Paralegal's Perspective

Updated 2-22-23. Providing Notary services in the in a law office presents unique challenges. Advanced knowledge of Notary laws and best practices is essential, along with specific legal or procedural requirements for certain documents. Dorothy O’Guin, a Florida Registered Paralegal and Advanced Certified Paralegal with the Gunster law firm in Vero Beach, Florida,recently provided theLegal Professionals Section important tips about avoiding notarization pitfalls that can cause a legal problem.

Almost every paralegal or legal assistant I know is required to provide Notary services. It’s a standard part of the job, which frees attorneys from the burden of meeting with every client that requires a notarization. But being a paralegal Notary is more than just watching someone sign a document and affixing your seal. It is imperative to understand the laws of your state and exactly what is required on the document you are notarizing.

A legal document that is incorrectly notarized can be a nightmare to correct and can lead to a lawsuit to determine the intent of the document. It could also potentially cause the failure of a signer’s wishes being fulfilled — all due to a flawed notarization.

Not all legal documents are the same. For example, powers of attorney are different from wills or trust documents, which is why every paralegal or legal assistant should know the notarial requirements of the document they are handling, including:

  • Whose signature needs to be notarized.
  • Whether or not the document must be signed in your presence.
  • If the signing requires witnesses and, if so, how many.
  • If the paralegal Notary can serve as a witness.
  • State statutes for certifying copies of a signed document.
  • Laws and ethics surrounding notarizations for family members.

There are also times when documents prepared in your law office will be sent out of state for execution. Since each state has its own Notary laws, a paralegal Notary should review the notarization requirements for the destination state to ensure the document will be received properly. Once signed and notarized, the document should be reviewed immediately to verify its proper execution. Always verify that the document contains a properly placed seal impression, and that the Notary’s commission is current. An expired Notary commission can be the kiss of death to an otherwise properly executed document.

There is another aspect you must always be on guard about: the unethical attorney that rushes into the office asking a Notary to notarize a document that was signed by a stranger who was not in their presence. As difficult as it may be to refuse to improperly notarize a document when your employer demands it, it is never worth the criminal conviction, jail time or civil suit that you may incur when the truth is discovered.

The education and training never stops, no matter how long you have been commissioned. It is critical to stay on top of current requirements as states change their laws. Attending paralegal continuing education seminars, Notary training and seminars provided by real property title insurance companies is a great way to keep current. The National Notary Association is always a great place to research current laws and obtain information about Notary do’s and don’ts.

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31 Jul 2014

Very good advice I learned that being a notary is more than just watching a principle sign a document. It is important to know each documents requirements. I am going to now familiarize myself with the do's and donts Thanks

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