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Quiz: The Unauthorized Practice of Law

The duties of a Notary are strictly defined by law; and a Notary who makes a mistake and goes beyond those duties can be held liable for the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). But what actions are considered UPL? Take our quiz and find out how much you know about UPL and how to avoid it - the answers may surprise you.

ANSWERS:

1. If a signer asks a nonattorney Notary about the legal effect of a document being signed, the Notary can:
A. Answer the question if the Notary is familiar with the document
B. Only answer if the Notary looks up the information in a reference book or on the Internet
C. Not answer, because any advice given by a nonattorney would be the unauthorized practice of law.
D. Only answer if the Notary is a legal secretary employed by a law firm — otherwise answering would be UPL.

Answer: C. A nonattorney Notary may not answer signer questions about the legal effect of a document. This is considered the unauthorized practice of law, even if the Notary is familiar with the document or is employed in a setting such as a law firm. If a nonattorney Notary gives unauthorized advice about a document that turns out to be wrong and causes the document to be invalidated, the signer could hold the Notary liable for any losses and damages that resulted. Any questions about a document’s effects should be referred to an attorney or other certified professional authorized by law to provide advice about the document.

2. If a signer asks what type of notarial act is needed for a document, a nonattorney Notary may:
A. Describe the different types of notarial act available, but must let the signer choose
B. Select the notarial act on behalf of the signer
C. Suggest the signer contact the agencies issuing or receiving the document for assistance.
D. Both A and C

Answer: D. The law prohibits Notaries from making decisions for signers. However, if the signer is not sure what type of notarial act is needed for a document, the Notary is permitted to describe the different types notarial acts available and let the signer choose one — but under no circumstances should a nonattorney Notary make the choice on the signer’s behalf. If the signer remains unsure what type of notarization is required, the signer can contact the agency that issued the document or the document’s recipient to ask what specific notarial act is needed.

3. A Notary is authorized to type and prepare documents for:
A. Any signer who needs immigration documents processed
B. No one, unless the Notary is also a certified professional in a field allowed to prepare the type of documents requested
C. Family and friends only
D. Employers, but only if the employer pays for the Notary’s commission

Answer: B. A Notary commission does not authorize a person to prepare and complete documents for others. A Notary may only prepare documents if the Notary is also a certified professional authorized to prepare documents, and even then can only prepare documents in that field of expertise. For example, a real estate agent who is also a Notary may be authorized to prepare real estate documents for a client, but could not prepare a last will and testament. Unqualified Notaries must never prepare any documents for family, friends or employers, because the Notary could be held responsible for any problems resulting from incorrect preparation.

4. True or False. Telling signers whether or not it’s a good idea to sign a document can be considered UPL.
Answer: True. While Notaries seek to be helpful, answering questions from a signer like “Is it a good idea for me to sign this agreement?” can be considered unauthorized practice of law and leave the Notary open to a potential lawsuit. Only a licensed attorney or other certified expert in the document’s field (such as a real estate agent regarding real estate documents) can advise a signer whether it’s beneficial or harmful to sign a document.

5. True or False. Correcting errors on pre-printed certificate wording is considered unauthorized practice of law.
Answer. False. The one area on a document where a Notary may correct errors or make changes is the notarial certificate wording. If there is a pre-printed error in the notarial certificate — for example, the wrong state and county are entered in the venue — the Notary may correct this information by lining through the errors, writing in the correct information and initialing and dating the change. However, the Notary should never correct or change information in the main body of the document — the Notary is only authorized to correct and complete the notarial certificate wording.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

2 Comments

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iCommunity

25 Jan 2017

It is ok to serve as a interpreter at the court to a client. I Am a Public notary in FL and many customers that come to me to sign affidavits and other document including dissolution of marriage ask me if I can also attend to court and serve as an interpreter.

National Notary Association

26 Jan 2017

Hello. The following is from the Florida Department of State's FAQ page for Notaries (http://notaries.dos.state.fl.us/education/faq/): "As a bilingual notary public, may I certify the accuracy of a translation of a document from English to Spanish, or vice versa? Certifying a translation is not an authorized duty of a Florida notary public. However, you may notarize the signature of the translator on an affidavit where the translator certifies and swears to the accuracy of his or her translation. If you are the translator for a particular document, you would be translating the document, not in your capacity as a notary public, but as a person who is fluent in both languages required for the translation. You should make an affidavit and have your signature notarized by another notary. "

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