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Habits And Missteps That Could Put Notaries At Risk

Notary-mistake-resized.jpgUpdated 2-5-19. The bad news for Notaries is that it's easy for a seemingly minor mistake to land you in legal or financial hot water. The good news is that in most cases, a little due diligence and care will keep you on the straight and narrow. Here are some mistakes you should avoid:

Sloppy Notary Journal Entries

Judges and juries form opinions about Notaries based on how records are kept in a Notary journal. Consequently, a journal with multiple cross-outs or otherwise illegible “chicken scratches,” or one that is sloppy or too disorganized to easily navigate, could readily be considered evidence of poor recordkeeping and therefore lose its value in protecting the Notary in a court of law. To retain its value, make sure your journal entries are legible, organized, and ordered consecutively by date, allowing for easy access — even years down the line.

Offering Improper Legal Advice

You may know that you should never offer legal advice to your clients, but remember that simply explaining documents to signers or advising them on which type of notarial act they require is crossing the line into legal advice. If signers have questions or need advice, they should contact the agency from which the documents originated, or the court or office where they are intended to go.

Incomplete Or Incorrectly Completed Notary Certificates

Whether it’s a missing venue on the Notary certificate, an illegible or smudged Notary seal, or a case of mismatching document signatures, incomplete or incorrect certificates can render a notarization invalid. In fact, courts have invalidated mortgages because the Notary forgot to put the name of the person signing the mortgage in the acknowledgment. A rejected notarization can, in turn, cause potentially costly delays for your signers, which could result in a lawsuit against you. It’s worth your effort and time to carefully review every document for clarity, thoroughness and accuracy.

Signing Agents: Don't Harass Signers For Your Payment

For Notary Signing Agents, the waiting game for payment can cause serious frustration — but going directly after the borrower can result in even more serious trouble for the NSA. All payment inquiries should be directed toward the contracting company that hired you, never the borrower, who, chances are, has already paid for the service as part of the loan fees.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

Notary Essentials


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John M Sewell

10 Mar 2015


Charles R. Kaul

14 Mar 2015

I am in New Jersey. Does this state have a similar law to Calif. requiring a notice box at top of a document stating is not responsible for content of document? If N.J. does not, would I be 7 to add my own in the same wording as Calif. ??

National Notary Association

16 Mar 2015

Hello Charles. No, the notice you are describing is required in California only, not New Jersey.

Agnes Reizik

12 Mar 2017

Could you please cite or reference a specific court case for: "In fact, courts have invalidated mortgages because the Notary forgot to put the name of the person signing the mortgage in the acknowledgment." I would love to read more details of this court ruling. Such as how come the recorder's office wasn't also held at fault and why the document wasn't rejected prior to recording. Just would be interested to read more. Thank you!

Monica Voloshin

11 Feb 2019

This article started out right habits and missteps of notaries. The last item about notaries not being paid for services rendered is actually not a misstep or faulty habit of a notary but of the hiring party and should never have been mentioned in the same article. I also would like to point out that defrauding a notary public is simply more than not paying a bill for services rendered and should be avoided by HIRING PARTIES at all costs and could negatively effect the borrower.

Deb Bell

18 Feb 2019

What Monica Voloshin said. And to piggyback on her comment — the fact that paying us seems to be an option.

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