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Proposed legislation would require Notaries to report signs of elder abuse

ElderAbuseThumb.jpgBills introduced in two states this month would require Notaries Public to report financial abuse of older signers if signed into law — the latest in ongoing efforts by U.S. lawmakers to prevent elder abuse and fraud.

California Assembly Bill 477 would mandate California Notaries who “reasonably suspect” financial abuse of an elderly or dependent adult during a notarization to notify local law enforcement or adult protective services within two working days. Failure to report such abuse could result in a civil penalty of $1,000 to $5,000 to be paid by either the Notary or a financial institution employing the Notary.

Ohio House Bill 49 requires Notaries who have “reasonable cause to believe an adult is being abused, neglected or exploited” to immediately report such belief to the county department of job and family services. The bill also prohibits employers from taking retaliatory action against an employee making a report of abuse.

Other states — including Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and West Virginia — have enacted laws to help prevent financial abuse against seniors, especially abuse involving fraudulent or coerced powers of attorney giving a third party control over an older signer’s affairs.

Warning signs of possible elder abuse include:

  • Someone asks you to notarize the signature of an older person who is not physically present on a power of attorney granting the person authority over the absent individual’s finances or property.
  • The signer is present but appears unwilling or confused about the document being notarized, but a third party attempts to pressure the signer into proceeding.
  • The signer is unresponsive to you, but someone else tries to move their hand to sign the documents anyway or asks you to let them sign on behalf of the unresponsive person.
  • The signer is being threatened or intimidated, either physically or verbally, by someone else present.

In these situations, ask to speak to the signer privately. This will give you the opportunity to determine if the signer truly is willing to proceed. If the signer is unwilling, still appears confused or you still have concerns that the signer may be coerced or duped, stop the notarization and notify your local adult protective services agency or law enforcement.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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