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5 Steps To A Proper Notarization

5 steps to a proper notarization infographic

Updated 3-5-18. There are few states that give new Notaries practical tips when performing their first notarization. Even states that have mandatory education requirements for commission applicants focus more on Notary law than Notary practice.

To help the new Notaries in our community, here are 5 steps to a proper notarization:

Step 1: Require Personal Appearance
 

Almost every state requires the signer to personally appear before you during the notarization. That’s crucial because it helps protect your signer, your employer, anyone relying on the notarization and you against potential fraud and liability.

Personal appearance allows you to complete other steps in a proper notarization.

Step 2: Check Over The Document 
 

You should always check over the document for a number of important reasons:

  • To look for certificate wording that will tell you what type of notarization to perform.
  • To review the certificate wording to make sure it contains all the elements a Notary certificate should have and that it conforms to the requirements of your state.
  • To check for blank spaces. Some states mandate there are no blanks on a document and other states just strongly recommend it. Blank documents can be altered later in an attempt to commit fraud.
  • Be sure to enter the date the notarization took place in the certificate wording.
  • To verify that the name on the ID supports the name in the document.

Scanning the document does not mean reading it for its details. You should just glance over it sufficiently to get the information you need.

Step 3: Carefully Identify The Signer
 

Properly verifying your signer’s identity is the essential duty of every Notary. Every state provides some direction as to how to identify your signer, and there are three general methods:


California does not allow Notaries to rely on personal knowledge to identify signers. Instead, California Notaries must rely either on one of the forms of signer ID permitted by state law, or credible identifying witnesses if the signer lacks other forms of acceptable identification.  

Identifying the signer is always required when you are taking an acknowledgment of a signature and may be required when you perform a jurat, verification upon oath or affirmation or affidavit as well; it’s also recommended when you certify a copy.

At this point, make sure your signer is acting of their free will and is aware of what’s going on. You can do this with small talk and basic questions. When it comes to a signer’s awareness, it’s recommended that you simply make a layperson’s judgment about the signer’s ability to understand what is happening. Some states, such as Florida, specifically prohibit notarizing if the signer appears mentally incapable of understanding the document. Texas authorizes Notaries to refuse a notarization if the signer appears under coercion, the Notary has reason to believe the document may be used for an illegal purpose or the signer does not understand the document, or if the Notary is not familiar with the type of notarization requested.  

And then take the signer’s acknowledgment, witness the signature, and/or take the oath or affirmation as required by the notarial act.

Step 4: Record Your Journal Entry
 

Most states either require or recommend Notaries maintain a record of all notarizations. A good journal entry contains details of the notarization that are helpful in case a document or notarization is called into question.

It’s generally a good idea to complete your journal entry before the notarization so you can make sure to collect all the necessary elements of the record, including your signer’s signature.

Step 5: Complete The Notarial Certificate
 

If the document does not contain certificate wording, ask your signer what type of notarization is required and then attach a separate, or loose, certificate. Many signers do not know what type of notarization they need so you may describe the different types, but you may not make the decision for the signer unless you are a licensed attorney. If your signer is still uncertain, he or she should contact the issuing or receiving agency for instructions.

When completing the certificate, make sure all the details are correct. For example, the venue — or location of the notarization, indicated by the words “State of … County of …” — should be where you performed the notarization, not where the document was prepared or will be filed.

Finally, take care to sign and affix your seal properly. You should always sign exactly as your name appears on your commission. Your seal should be close to your signature but should not overlap any wording. The goal is to make everything legible. If you are in a state that does not require you to use a seal, you may need to add your name and commission information in other spaces below your signature.

Virginia and Montana currently permit Notaries to perform notarizations using audio and video conferencing technology — via webcam.

Nevada and Texas have passed laws, which go into effect in July 2018, authorizing webcam notarizations.

A Last Note: Never Give Advice
 

Many signers will ask you for advice or assistance regarding their document. Unless you are an attorney, you should always say no because it would be the unauthorized practice of law, and you could be held liable.

You can learn about your state’s requirements for a notarization from your state’s Notary handbook, website or statutes, or the U.S. Notary Reference Manual, which is a member benefit. The NNA’s Notary Essentials eLearning course guides you through your state’s ID rules as well as identification best practices.

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

99 Comments

Add your comment

Deborah

11 Apr 2015

Great article! Recently, I had a conversation with a Notary from Indiana. He said notaries can file completely online. The Sec of State Office doesn't keep records of notary applications and no hand-written legal signature is required. How is this possible? If states aren't standardizing and regulating applications, signatures, and rules, who is? This can ultimately lead to the lose of the integrity of the notaries. Hmmm.

Teresa Karalus

13 Apr 2015

Very Informative!

Thomas O Evans

13 Apr 2015

Very good advise. Thank you

Howard

13 Apr 2015

I know that the signing location column does not need to be filled out in the journal since it is optional. Is it ok to leave it blank in California?

National Notary Association

14 Apr 2015

Hello Howard. California requires the following information to be recorded in a journal entry (GC 8206): 1. Date, time and type of each official act; 2. Character (type or title) of every document sworn to, affirmed, acknowledged or proved before the Notary; 3. Signature of each person whose signature is notarized, including the signature of any subscribing witness and the mark of a signer by mark; 4. Statement regarding the type of satisfactory evidence relied on to identify the signer; 5. Fee charged for the notarial act, or, if no fee was charged, “No Fee” or “0”; 6. If document is a power of attorney, deed, quitclaim deed, deed of trust or other document affecting real property, the right thumbprint (or any other available print) of the signer.

Etta Coley-Johnson

13 Apr 2015

Very good information!

Belinda Thomason

13 Apr 2015

Great info! I plan to attach it with my journal as a handy reference.

Renee

13 Apr 2015

Notaries in SC have to go to the court house, pay $5 and have their certificates filed and then they must sign a ledger with the exact signature they will be using. There are still some states that are on point.

Grace M. Stemple

13 Apr 2015

I paid my $99.00 just wanted to know when the items will arrive and the State Seal for Notaries.

National Notary Association

14 Apr 2015

Hello Grace. We checked your order status, and according to our records, we haven't yet received a copy of your Notary commission, which we need to confirm your status and continue processing your order. You can call our Customer Care team at 1-800-876-6827 and they can provide you with instructions how to send us a copy of your commission. If you need additional assistance, you can also email your contact information to us at social@nationalnotary.org and we'll be happy to have someone contact you.

Patricia Strickland

13 Apr 2015

Thanks for the up to date knowledge

Edgar O.

14 Apr 2015

Thanks for posting such an informative article. Checking for blank spaces on the document is definitely an important aspect for a proper notarization.

Fermin Marengo

14 Apr 2015

Excellent article. And the comment by Deborah as to the stadarization of the rules and regulations that the government should implant in every state that would give credibility and strength to the occupation of the signing agent. If everyone has its own set of rules, without control of some respectful entity, there will be no future for the signing agent in the near future.

Joan A. Baffa

15 Apr 2015

Many thanks for this submission - as usual, your information is always extremely helpful. I wanted to point out that each notary should always check the rules and regs of her/his own state because in NYS, for instance, Notaries Public are not permitted to CERTIFY anything......reference to certifying a copy was made in the third from the bottom paragraph of item #3 above. Again, many thanks - I'll post this information for others to see!

chandra

16 Apr 2015

Should I put in county where my commission is or where I preform the notary act /

National Notary Association

16 Apr 2015

Hello Chandra. We're sorry, we weren't completely clear from your question what you were asking. It seems you may be asking about the certificate venue, but we wanted to be sure in order to avoid accidentally giving you the wrong information. If you can please email hotline@nationalnotary.org to clarify your question and include the state you are commissioned in, our hotline team can assist you.

Karen

17 Apr 2015

I think I know what Chandra is asking...I believe I have the same question based on the above comment. My commission is registered in the county where I live but I work and notarize documents in another county. I think I would use the county where I am commissioned (where I live (TN)).

Delores Lyon

13 May 2015

Wow, I had no idea that so much is required in order to have a contract notarized! I have actually been thinking of drafting my will on my own and then having it notarized by a proper figure. It sounds like I better find the proper person near me so that I can have that document notarized properly.

Joey

14 May 2015

On my commission it indicates my complete full name: first, middle & last name. I understand I should always sign exactly as my name appears on my commission. But is it mandatory to sign with my middle name included every time? I have a very long first and last name as it is.

National Notary Association

15 May 2015

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

Jim N

01 Jun 2015

Make sure that you examine your state statute and find out what is required as part of the notarial act. The information in the seal is not considered to be part of the information required in the notarial act. The seal stands apart from the required information. Make a list and number each requirement. When I check each document, I know that there are eight things required in my notarial act and the document requires a seal as the ninth. Many lender documents omit some of these requirements, but the lender will expect you to comply with your state statutes regardless.

Linda

15 Jun 2015

I am from Michigan. My question is, when using the embosser, in addition to the seal, should we be embossing over our signature or elsewhere on the page? I know not to emboss on the seal. Thank you!

National Notary Association

17 Jun 2015

Hello. If you use a seal embosser, it should not be placed over any text or signatures on the document.

josh

01 Sep 2015

Is there a number I can call to discuss legal matters?

National Notary Association

02 Sep 2015

Hello. We're sorry, but we do not provide legal advice. If you need assistance with a legal matter, you will need to contact an attorney. Our Notary Hotline (1-88-876-6827 or hotline@nationalnotary.org) can only answer questions about state Notary rules and notarial procedures.

Kelley

20 Sep 2015

Great article! Bookmarking for future reference!

Khalid Rana

13 Oct 2015

Great Article. All expects of Notarial procedure have been explained.

Aquanetta Russell-Williams

14 Oct 2015

Hello, I live in Texas, I did the application online and submitted it. But I had to mail it into the NNC with my signature. Once they had submitted and it was approved I got my commission in the mail alone with my supplies.

Shelly Swinehart

07 Dec 2015

I am a new notary in PA and will mostly be notarizing for my boss. We mostly notarize AIA documents which have a waiver page and a certificate for payment page. In my journal, can I just write waiver and certificate of payment where you write acknowledgement or jurat or whatever the case may be? Also, where it ask for signature, do I have to have my boss sign everytime or can I leave it blank or stamp his name. Thanks for any help you can give.

National Notary Association

08 Dec 2015

Hello. No to both questions. You must complete the appropriate notarial wording required by your state for any notarial act you perform, and the signer must sign the document, physically appear before you, and be properly identified each time the person's signature is notarized. Failing to do so--or notarizing under false pretenses, such as attesting someone signed a document when they did not do so--is a serious breach of Notary law and you and your employer could face liability and criminal penalties, and your commission could be suspended or revoked.

Gerald L. Birk

01 Feb 2016

Thank you for the Notary Bulletin, very good information in that publication. Also, I just wanted to comment that using NNA for my bond was fast and easy, there are 7 of us here and we are going to be staying with NNA for our future bonding and supply needs. We are glad that you are available. THANK YOU! GLB

Anna

21 Mar 2016

What are the notary fees for different types of forms?

National Notary Association

21 Mar 2016

Hello. The maximum amount Notaries may charge for their services depends on the laws of the state where the Notary is commissioned. If you can tell us what state you are located in, we'll be happy to provide more specific information.

frank palazza

25 Apr 2016

im commissioned in new jersey ,question is..what county do I use ? where I was commissioned or county that I will notorize in

National Notary Association

25 Apr 2016

Hello. If you're referring to completing the venue section of the notarial wording you would always enter the location where the notarization took place.

Peggy A Veeder

25 Apr 2016

Excellent article! Great and refreshing points when your client keeps asking why this and why that

Marcela Franco

25 Apr 2016

What if a Notary has used a stamp with a wrong commission number and expiration date on a Power of Attorney and Quitclaim Deed? What does that do to the documents?

National Notary Association

26 Apr 2016

Hello Marcela. According to our records, you are contacting us from California. Notarizing a power of attorney, quitclaim deed or any other document with an invalid Notary seal is a violation of multiple California Notary statutes. The NNA cannot provide a legal opinion as to the effect of notarizing a power of attorney or quitclaim deed with an improper Notary seal. Please consult an attorney to be advised of your legal rights and any course of action you should take.

Martha

25 Apr 2016

Thank u always

patricia.shields@natus.com

25 Apr 2016

Not sure if my comment went through...How easy is it or can you transfer your appointment to another state. I still awaiting my stamp, but curious. This was good infomation for a quick reference checklist. Thanks!

National Notary Association

25 Apr 2016

Hello. Commissions don't transfer between states. If a Notary moves to another state, the Notary would need to resign the original commission and apply for a new one in the destination state.

sandra voyles

26 Apr 2016

I'm commissioned in California. My stamp has my first middle and last name. Do I have to sign my middle name?

National Notary Association

29 Apr 2016

Hello. The signature you affix to any notarial certificate must be the same signature you entered on the commission application submitted to the Secretary of State.

Mariam

08 Jun 2016

I am in New Mexico and I have a form with the county printed on it but this is not where I will be performing the notarization. Can I use it anyway? Do I cross out the county and put the correct one?

National Notary Association

13 Jun 2016

Hello. The incorrect information on the notarial certificate wording should be lined through, then write in the correct location and initial and date your correction.

LeDora C.Stallworthl

28 Jun 2016

I need to know do you have the signer sign every time you do a notary for them or not?

National Notary Association

29 Jun 2016

Hello. It depends on the type of notarial act requested. For example, if the signer needs an acknowledgment, the signer may bring a previously signed document to the Notary. However, a jurat typically requires the signer to sign the document in the Notary's presence, followed by the Notary administering an oath or affirmation to the signer. Notaries are also sometimes asked to administer a verbal oath or affirmation that does not involve a document.

nereyda martinez

01 Jul 2016

can i give some on a copy of my journal, showing that i notarized something for them?

National Notary Association

05 Jul 2016

Hello. In order to answer your question can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Tonya

29 Jul 2016

My fiance was presented a document at his job today by his ex mother in law, requesting for him to give his son's mother full custody back (the ex mother & father in law had full custody of him). It was stamped & signed by the notary public & signed by the child's mother, but he signed without the notary public present.. is the legal in the state of Alabama?

National Notary Association

29 Jul 2016

Hello. If what you are saying is that the Notary's seal was affixed to the document and the notarial certificate was completed outside the signer's presence and before the signer actually signed then no, that would not be a legal notarization.

Ricardo Lopez

08 Sep 2016

Can I notarize Construction permits for my own company?

National Notary Association

08 Sep 2016

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

Bob

16 Oct 2016

I am a notary public in the state of California. Recently an older lady came in to have a document notarized. I asked here what type of document this was and type of notary act. She told me the type of act so I checked marked the journal that this was an acknowledgement.(as she said it was). The document had no date so I wrote in journal that there was no date posted. However, I noted that the notarized act took place on so and so date in county of los angeles. Was this done correctly? If not, how do I fix it and could I go to jail? I even had the person place their thumb print in my journal

National Notary Association

17 Oct 2016

Hello. CA requires that Notary record in their journal entry the date, time and type of each official act. (GC 8206[a]; NPH). If you entered said information in your journal entry, then you acted correctly.

Allison

28 Oct 2016

If some is signing a document for their trust. Exp. TRANSFERRING ownership from a property held in trust to someone else is ot the notarise responsibility to confirm on the trust documents that n person is allowed to sign for the trust? AND to keep copies of those tust documents ?

National Notary Association

31 Oct 2016

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

ebarmore@gmail.com

15 Nov 2016

As a signing agent, am I allowed to prefill in venue, date, borrower's name etc., in Notary Certificates pre-closing and then sign and seal at the time the document is executed (commissioned in TX).

National Notary Association

17 Nov 2016

Hello. A Texas Notary must “complete the notarial certificate at the time the notary public’s signature and seal are affixed to the document” (Texas Administrative Code 87.11 [11])

Karyn

01 Dec 2016

Hello! As a notary in TN, I am commissioned in the county where I work. However, due to the nature of my job, I end up needing to notarize papers while I am in a different county. (i.e. I am commissioned in Williamson, but am asked to travel to Davidson or Maury to notarize papers) When I fill out the paperwork, am I to write down the county where the papers are being signed (even though my seal says my commissioned county) or my commissioned county?

National Notary Association

01 Dec 2016

Hello Karyn. When completing the venue portion of notarial wording, you would write the county where the notarization takes place.

Tracie

20 Dec 2016

Can we notarized personal letters?

National Notary Association

22 Dec 2016

Hello. Yes, if requested to do so and the notarial act meets all requirements of your state's law.

Pat Cunningham

18 Jan 2017

I am a notary in Arizona. I am involved in our family business. Can I notarize my husband or son's signature on misc. documents if it will not profit me directly.

National Notary Association

19 Jan 2017

Hello. Arizona Notaries may not notarize the signatures of anyone related to the Notary by marriage or adoption. (ARS 41-328[B]) So you may not notarize your husband's signature, but may notarize your son's signature as long as he is not adopted. However, state Notary officials have said that they do not recommend notarizing for blood relatives even though it is permitted by state law.

Jackie

22 Jan 2017

I am a notary in Pennsylvania. In the document I am being asked to notarized, the 2 witness names are filled in and they will also sign in my presence. In the blank spaces in the Acknowledgment, do I also list the witnesses as well as the person signing as appearing before me?

National Notary Association

23 Jan 2017

Hello. The acknowledgment certificate should only include the name of the person or persons whose signature you are notarizing.

trish

01 Mar 2017

I'm a notary in NYS. I forgot to order my new stamp when I renewed by notary public license. I have to notarize a document today. Can I change the date by hand when I stamp the document?

National Notary Association

01 Mar 2017

Hello. No, it is not permitted to notarize a document and then stamp it at a later time and alter the date of the notarization. However, a New York State Notary is not required by law to use a seal when notarizing.

Lindsey

14 Mar 2017

As a notary in AZ, I just moved to a new county, is my notary still good to use if I do a change of address? Can I notarize in my new county?

National Notary Association

14 Mar 2017

Hello. You need to notify the Secretary of State by certified mail or via the AZ SOS website (www.azsos.gov/business/notary-public) of your change of address within 30 days. (ARS 41-323[A])

Vonnell Adams

15 Mar 2017

I'm contesting a notary my wife and I didn't sign. I'm asking the persons responsible for this fault to tell me where did this signing take place and they have refused to answer. I'm also at a lost on how they obtained the information from my driving license I'm in California.

Nora Torres

16 Mar 2017

Does a personal letter require notorial wording?

National Notary Association

17 Mar 2017

Hello. Whether a document requires notarization or not is up to the signer or document owner. Notaries may not advise a signer whether or not a document requires notarization, as this would be considered unauthorized legal advice.

Kimberly

20 Mar 2017

Does the Notary have to be from the same state as the person's document is from? Specifically, does a person in jail use a form from what he deems as "his" state or that in which he is imprisoned, if they are different?

National Notary Association

23 Mar 2017

Hello. No, a document does not have to originate from the state where the Notary is commissioned in order to be notarized. However, the signer must appear in person before the Notary and the notarization must meet all requirements of the laws of the state the Notary is commissioned in.

Michelle H

24 Mar 2017

When putting the date on an acknowledgement, should be written out (ex. March 18,2010) or numbers are ok (3/18/2010)?

National Notary Association

28 Mar 2017

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

Dominique

02 Apr 2017

If someone needed a lease notarized in Cook County Illinois, can another sheet of paper be attached to perform this notarization due to the fact that a lease is not a document that would normally require notarization, like a deed?

National Notary Association

03 Apr 2017

Hello Dominique. The signer would have to contact the agency that issued the deed or the agency that will be receiving the deed after it is notarized to find out if this is acceptable or not.

Tiffany Churchwell

03 Apr 2017

Great article it was very informative bc I'm a Notary myself.

Darlene Moonan

19 Apr 2017

I have a notary question. Can a notary ALSO be the witness of a document or is that a conflict of interest? I have a NYS notary who witnessed signatures and ALSO notarized the docoument Seems like a conflict of interest

National Notary Association

21 Apr 2017

Hello. Acting as a witness and a Notary on some documents is not expressly prohibited in New York. However, a New York Notary may not notarize a document if the Notary is a party to the document or has a direct interest in the transaction, though attorneys are permitted to notarize for clients (EL 135).

Kimberly

23 Apr 2017

Do notary journals in California have to put APN on realestate in their book ledger (journal)?

National Notary Association

24 Apr 2017

Hello. Can you please clarify what you mean by "APN?"

Paula Berg

13 Jun 2017

I just had a document notarized. It was for my pension and had my husbands name, DOB and SS # on it. The notary at the postal shop made a copy of it. This makes me feel very uncomfortable as I don't know how secure her files are. Why would she need a copy of my personal document?

National Notary Association

14 Jun 2017

Hi Paula. Normally, a Notary does not photocopy the document being notarized. Can you tell us any more details why the Notary said she required a copy, and what state you are located in?

Linda

16 Jun 2017

I am a notary in California and I cannot find an answer to the following question anywhere: I prepare deeds in a law office. Since I am the one inserting the notary acknowledgment into the deed, I have always removed the pronoun references that do not apply to the signer so the acknowledgment is more accurate. For example, if I am preparing a deed for a "John Smith," I would remove the references to "she" and "they," and I would change all plural language, like person(s) and capacity(ies), to singular. Is this technically allowed? If the notary is the one preparing the document, can the acknowledgment be typed to accurately reflect the gender and number of signers?

National Notary Association

22 Jun 2017

Hello. Based on the information we have from the Secretary of State's office, the full "he/she/they" must be typed out.

Claudia

31 Jul 2017

So on my notary stamp I have my first middle and last name. Am I able to sign with my first and last name only or does it have to be f/m/l name?

National Notary Association

02 Aug 2017

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

Renee Lee

12 Oct 2017

I was a victim of fraud and did not appear before a notary. There is two diffetent signatures for the witness that I never mey. I found the notary and she said it must have been you. The fake witness is deceased. Do not know what to do.

National Notary Association

13 Oct 2017

Hello. If you believe yourself to be a victim of fraud, you should report it to local law enforcement or a agency that handles fraud cases such as the attorney general's office.

Bill

18 Dec 2017

If a NY notary moves to a different county within NY State, can he cross out the previous county (shown on his notary stamp) and enter the new county?

National Notary Association

20 Dec 2017

Hello. The Notary should print the county where he is originally qualified for a commission. However, if the Notary has submitted paperwork to be qualified in that new county he can also add the ‘additional’ county.

Rebekah

01 Feb 2018

Can my signature be my first initial and middle initial and full last name? This is how I typically sign my name for anything else since it's long.

National Notary Association

02 Feb 2018

Hello. Please see this article for more information: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2015/08/avoid-common-notary-certificate-mistakes

Margaret

12 Mar 2018

Very Informative. Thank you for always being helpful

Linda Kaye

07 May 2018

Great information many times its good to review.

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