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5 Common mistakes that can lead to legal problems

Updated 1-24-22. Careless mistakes when notarizing can have serious legal consequences for Notaries and signers. Here are 5 common mistakes Notaries should avoid:
  1. Failing to require the signer to appear
  2. Failing to properly record notarizations in a journal
  3. Failing to properly identity a a signer
  4. Making mistakes on the Notary certificate
  5. Losing your Notary seal

1. Failing to require the signer to appear

Experts all agreed that failing to require a signer to personally appear before you is the most common mistake that lands Notaries in legal hot water. Notarizing without a signer’s personal appearance is a 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.

2. Failing to properly record notarizations in your journal

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 has represented many Notaries in legal actions. Failing to record information in the journal when the law requires it can be a problem, too. One Notary in a state that requires a journal thumbprint neglected to obtain the signer’s thumbprint in what turned out to be a forgery. The Notary’s insurance carrier paid out a full loss on the Notary’s E&O policy

3. Failing to properly identify 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.

4. Making mistakes on the Notary certificate

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, Hamm described how if a Notary doesn’t properly complete the wording on documents for a car purchase, 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.

5. Losing your Notary seal

Letting others use your Notary seal or not properly securing your seal can be damaging. Two Notaries in different states found this out the hard way. In both cases, their signatures appeared on documents they denied notarizing. The only other alternatives weren’t much prettier. Either the Notaries failed to secure their seals, allowing someone else to use them, or they intentionally allowed others to improperly use them. One Notary settled out of court and the other’s insurance carrier settled the claim by compensating the victims.

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

Related Articles:

What to do if your Notary seal or journal go missing

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Susan Barnes

26 Oct 2015

Thanks for the information,

Georgia B.

08 Feb 2016

I'm extremely grateful for all the reminders you send out as sometimes we do forget the simple things. Thank you for all you do to help us in becoming and remaining professional entrepreneurs.

Robert Boire

08 Feb 2016

All common sense information. Things that are needed in the way "required", but a lot of people are just in a hurry to get in and out. Hopefully this will make all of use think first before we act.

Khalid Rana

08 Feb 2016

A comprehensive guide lines for Notaries how to proceed carefully for notarizing documents and maintaining record. Very helpful information.

Juanvinetta Davis

08 Feb 2016

my commission expires on April 17, 2016, how do I renew it and how soon can I renew it?

National Notary Association

09 Feb 2016

Hello Juanvinetta. If you need assistance renewing your commission, our Customer Care team can help you at 1-800-876-6827.


08 Feb 2016

Great reminders!!


08 Feb 2016

Great information!!

31 Aug 2016

Very helpful information. Pratical, common sense reminders when conducting notaries. Seems like the Notary Publics in these scenerios were extremely careless in their acts. Thanks for the information.


13 Feb 2017

I truly appreciate the updates and reminders.

Carol Wenzel

14 Feb 2017

2 patients came into the clinic that I work in as well as do the notary, in which I am a new notary of 2 1/2 months. The 1st patient wanted me to notarize his list of things that were wrong with his apartment that he was moving into. The 2nd patient wanted me to notarize his personal notes he had written down during his behavioral health session. I chose not to notarize both notes, because I was not comfortable in doing that, being a new notary & I wasn't sure if it would have been legal for me to do so. So I guided them to other notary agents elsewhere who were more knowledgeable in those matters. So my question is: can I notarize personal handwritten notes? I am commissioned in Wisconsin.

Stephanie Dye

20 Feb 2017

Thank you so much for all the awesome information that you send us. I agree, this information and they why's of it all help to keep us in the know and safe. Very appreciated.


24 Feb 2019

I am victim if identity fraud in which a Fidelity mortgage loan modification with my name was notarized without my knowledge. Property in Houston I live in Ft Lauderdale. I want to sue for I need an attorney? If so, does attorney need to be licensed in Texas?

National Notary Association

25 Feb 2019

Hello. We're sorry, but we can't provide legal advice on how to proceed with a lawsuit. You would need to contact a qualified attorney in your area to answer your questions.

Daphne Cox

18 Mar 2019

The information that's emailed is always helpful to myself and others as well. I think this information is great and the notary shouldn't let the consumers rush them with the notarization, that's when mistakes happen.

Laura H

18 Mar 2019

I have a question regarding what you are to put in the County spot. I actually work in a different county I live in. When I notarize, do I use my work county? This is where I am actually doing my notarizing.

National Notary Association

18 Mar 2019

Hello. If you are referring to the location in the venue portion of a Notary certificate, then you would enter the county where the notarization is taking place.

Corinne Galloway

18 Mar 2019

Great information. Please keep it coming!

Geri Wiley

18 Mar 2019

I enjoy these notifications, makes being a notary updated on all legal matters.

Amanda M Smith

18 Mar 2019

Your bulletin is always very helpful. for keeping us up to date and putting out good articles to keep us on track.

Tabatha L

18 Mar 2019

Thank you for all the helpful notary advice!

Arnica Perez

19 Mar 2019

Thanks for this valuable information

Gwendolyn Jordan

20 Mar 2019

Im a new notary....need all this info and then some. Should I join this org to recieve educational information?

National Notary Association

21 Mar 2019

Hi Gwendolyn. If you have any questions about NNA membership, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-876-6827 and one of our Customer Care representatives will be happy to provide you with information.


30 May 2019

Thank you so much for this reminder. We should always pay attention to what we're notarizing to avoid complications. Thank you again for this.


09 Jul 2019

Thank you for the reminder and the updates. They are very important.

Barbara Williams

18 Jan 2021

Thank you for sharing events that there is doubt. I have been a Notary for some time. I know it’s great to review refresh and to hear what other’s are running into. I am new to Association. Happy to be a part of! Have a great day! Barbara W.

18 Jan 2021

Thanks for the information. This is very helpful.

Sylvia G Pettit

18 Jan 2021

I have belonged to NNA since 2004 my first notary job. I always remind any one is going to be a notary to always join NNA and stay with it. Your daily notices are soooo helpful. I have been a Notary Public for over 16 yrs and I always take the tests and double check information to make sure I am up to date. Yahoo for NNA Regards Sylvia Pettit Los Banos CA

Sol delorito

18 Jan 2021

How can I notarized multiple signatures (12) In one documents? Do I need to attached 1 acknowledgement in each signature? Pls advised...

National Notary Association

19 Jan 2021

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.


18 Jan 2021

Can a Notary only chose to do Loan signing and turn down other type of notaries for general public? or is it against the law?

National Notary Association

19 Jan 2021

Hello. Provided that your state permits Notary Signing Agents, there is no prohibition against specializing in loan signing assignments. Please see here for more information:

Shirl B.

18 Jan 2021

Thank you for all the golden reminders.

Robin John Rutt

18 Jan 2021

Always make sure that they appear and always make sure the identification picture matches the person in front of you and make them pulled her mask down so you can see. Always check your work Don’t be in a hurry because you want to get paid for accuracy, not expediency Think of performing a notary like a lap around the track you’ve got to cover all ground to make a complete lap and you have to cover all of your work to make a complete and proper notarization Don’t ever be in a hurry. You can’t afford to be wrong once. If you are not sure if something called the Secretary of State better yet do it in an email so you have back up to what your question was. Remember you were responsible for it no matter what

Robin John Rutt

18 Jan 2021

Don’t ever be in a hurry because the extra time you take to confirm your work is far less time than it would be to have to go through your journal and send it to the Secretary of State or have to go through a court case Think of the extra time as an insurance policy to make sure your work is impeccable and can stand the test of being under a judge’s eyes. If you think of it in terms of having to do your notary in front of a judge you’ll make sure that you do everything correctly because everything you do can be questioned and you have to be able to explain everything you did and make sure you cover the things that you didn’t do

Yolanda Jackson

16 Feb 2021

Thank you for the reminder and updates, they are very helpful.


17 Feb 2021

Can you sign for a family member

National Notary Assocation

25 Feb 2021

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please clarify if you mean signing a document on behalf of a family member, or notarizing a family member's signature? Also, can you please tell us what state you are located in?


19 Feb 2021

I was a notary in the past over 15 years ago. I recently applied for notary public and took the oath then sent it to office of the great seal in November of 2020. I have not received any response. What should be my next step?

National Notary Association

24 Feb 2021

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please confirm what state you are applying for a commission in?

Voncile Gissendaner-Wilson

13 Jul 2021

This was great information; easy to understand and remember. This was vital information for people starting out and/or considering this as a part-time or full-time career.

Liletha Ford Tobias

31 Jan 2022

I love the daily content. Thank you for adding value and insight as I pursue a career in this profession…

Gabriela Richardson

31 Jan 2022

Thank you. This is all great information and very helpful.

Renee Keaton Bordenave

31 Jan 2022

Thank you for the information it was helpful

Kathy R Woods

01 Feb 2022

Very timely and helpful reminders as I will be conducting my first signing tomorrow! Thank you.

Elizabeth Slack

01 Feb 2022

State of Indiana: In the journal of things that have been notarized, there is a spot for a date and time of notarization. Is it required to put both the date and time.

National Notary Association

04 Feb 2022

Hello. The state only requires a journal entry for remote notarial acts. However, if you choose to keep a journal for paper notarizations, the state recommends recording the following information: • Date and time the notarial act was performed; • Type of notarial act performed; • Date of the document notarization; • Type of document notarized (i.e. will, contract, deed, etc.); • Printed name of the signer; • Description of how the notary public identified the signer; • Any other pertinent information; • Fees collected, if any; • Unusual circumstances such as reason for refusal to notarize, etc.

Lillian San Agustin-Davis

02 Feb 2022

I notarize for my employer, and once, I checked the section "personally known to me" without any other identification. In the section "additional comments" is where I put their title and department where they work. I've only done this one time. Should I have still asked for her drivers license?

National Notary Association

04 Feb 2022

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Lillian San Agustin-Davis

04 Feb 2022

in response to the personally known to me...I'm in the state of Nevada.

National Notary Association

18 Feb 2022

Hello. In Nevada, Notaries must include in their journal entry a description of how the signer was identified (NRS 240.120.1). Nevada Notaries may identify a signer through personal knowledge of the signer if "the person is personally known to the officer through dealings sufficient to provide reasonable certainty that the person has the identity claimed” (NRS 240.062). If you identified the signer through personal knowledge and recorded this information in the journal entry, you would not be required to also include the signer's driver's license information for your journal.

Mary Lee Schultz

25 Jan 2023

Great information.

Juan C Gonzales

06 Mar 2023

Thank you for the information.

Patricia D Baird

25 Jun 2023

My ex-husband was not given all of the paperwork that he signed at his attorney office and my boss when he asked for everything that he signed on May 6th 2020 after his sister had tried to get him inclared mentally handy chapter and coherent and wanted him put on the hospital hospice and a doctor family doctor denied both wishes he signed paperwork regarding his dual power attorney and health and as tenant joint with rights of ownership to a deed to his property to his other brother and his brother's girlfriend afterwards he came back on the 14th of May 2020 after seeing his doctor and told the lawyer and the notary public who were both public when he signed the paperwork and the doctor the lawyer stated that oh they had a nice visit and everything and my ex-husband stated he did not remember anything about anything he signed they did not give him the deed to revoke at that time then he passed away without his children not knowing anything about this until they went to file his will and leaving everything to his daughters including the land so he had no idea that he even signed the paperwork after going to see his doctor on May 14th 2020 he went to revoke everything that he had signed they gave him the right to do the attorney do a power attorney and his health account but did not give him the deed to revoke in the state of Missouri are they liable the lawyer and the notary public?

National Notary Association

26 Jun 2023

Hello. We're sorry, but those are legal questions that you will need to consult with a qualified attorney for advice on.

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