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My First Notarization: Notaries share their stories

Getting through your first notarization assignment

Updated 10-5-16. The first notarization is often the hardest. You have no experience, and even if you’ve trained and prepared, you never quite know what to expect. Every Notary has been there, and often they learned important lessons that helped them improve. Several members shared their early notarization stories and offered advice to help give new Notaries a jump start.

Don’t let nervousness get the better of you

Even if you’ve taken classes and carefully studied your state’s rules, your first notarization can be intimidating.

“I was so nervous on my first notarization I was looking at the document but not seeing it properly,” said La Vonne Long of Middlesboro, Kentucky, who first became a Notary in 2007.

Long said that she was trying so hard to hide her inexperience that she didn’t notice the signer was writing his name in the wrong place. Fortunately, the signer caught the error and was able to correct it before the notarization was completed.

“My first notarization taught me to be careful, which ensured better notarizations in the future,” she said. “I learned to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”

La Verne Patane of Los Angeles, California, was also nervous during her first assignment — she was asked by friends from New Zealand to notarize important paperwork to extend their visa documents. Patane says that she was so nervous that she blanked out when asked what her fee was.

She now brings her reference materials and the NNA Hotline number to every notarization. “I thought my first notarization would be easy-peasy, but all you know can go right out the window when you’re actually notarizing the first time and the signers are watching you.”

Make sure your tools are ready and working

It’s very common to be nervous during the first assignment. Valerie Barrett of Orange County, California, said that during her first signing, her hands were shaking so much she didn’t recognize her own signature. It didn’t help that she discovered that the portable printer she brought with her to print out the loan documents was running low on ink. Fortunately, she was still able to print the needed paperwork, but it was an important lesson for her for future assignments. “That’s why I always bring an extra cartridge of ink with me today,” she said.

Don’t give unauthorized advice or answer inappropriate questions

Another important rule to remember: Notaries can’t provide advice or answer questions about documents, as Danielle Finger found out during her first loan document signing.

Finger, a paralegal and Certified Notary Signing Agent from San Francisco, California, said that her first assignment in 2003 wasn’t easy — it was late at night in a rough neighborhood, and the signers kept asking her about the loan documents. “They got pretty upset when I told them I couldn’t answer questions,” she says. Finger remained firm, and was able to complete the assignment successfully. “I have a checklist of things I have to do, and I stick to it.” she said.

Say ‘no’ to inappropriate requests

New Notaries need to understand that they can’t agree to requests that violate state laws. When Dianne Shorte received her first commission, a TV show saved her from such a violation.

Shorte, a legal assistant from Los Angeles, California, was working at a law firm when a prominent attorney asked if she could notarize some documents for him, signed by his spouse. Even though the wife wasn’t present, the attorney wanted Shorte to go ahead and notarize without personal appearance.

“I was just about to do it,” Shorte said, “when I remembered this TV show I had seen the night before where the criminal killed his wife and then forged her signature on some documents.” She realized that she had no way of knowing if something suspicious was going on — and that she could be in big trouble if she notarized fraudulent documents.

She explained to the attorney that she couldn’t notarize without the document signer present with ID, and offered to travel to the wife’s location to notarize instead. Though at first he pressed her to make an exception “just this once,” the attorney eventually agreed to reschedule the notarization. 

Paralegal Madeleine Holt of Pleasant Hill, California, also learned a valuable lesson during her first notarization: Just because a signer is an authority figure doesn’t mean they’re infallible, or honest.

During her first notarization, Holt was asked to simply “stamp and sign” a document, not realizing that certificate wording was required. “He was a nice guy, and seemed to come across knowing what he was doing,” Holt said — but that still left her unable to comply with the request.

Fortunately, the signer had no objection when she offered to attach a loose certificate with the proper wording instead. Since that first notarization, Holt says she’s had few problems but that first experience taught her how important it is that Notaries know what they are authorized to do by law.

Take ownership of your training and education

Rene’ Erard of Las Vegas, Nevada, was casual about being a Notary in her early days. She was working in a small office in 2001 when she was commissioned and, at first, she thought she had all the resources she needed. It was during an early assignment that she realized the rules for Notaries were more complex than she knew.

“A company sent me an advertisement for a round Notary stamp. It looked nice so I ordered one,” she said. It wasn’t until she got a phone call from the state about the stamp that she found out round stamps aren’t legal to use in Nevada. Though she was able to resolve the situation amicably, she realized she had to take charge and educate herself more. She started attending training classes and carefully reading reference material to make sure she wasn’t taken by surprise again.

Today Erard carefully reads her state’s handbook each time it’s updated and also follows legislative updates on new state laws that affect her. Her diligence and preparedness have paid off — she now works as a legal coordinator at the corporate offices of Caesars Palace, one of the most famous hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

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

Related Articles:

My First Notarization: What I learned

Getting ready for your first signing assignment

Five questions to ask a signing service before your first assignment

Additional Resources:

How to Become a Notary Signing Agent

The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility

View All: Notary News


Add your comment

Thomas D. Walker

17 Aug 2015

I did the second part of a 2 part loan closing. First notary signed and notarized for both borrowers and instructed the second borrower to just sign and drop as he had already notarized the package. I had confirmed my part of closing and when I showed up Mrs. *** had already dropped the package. She went to the UPS store and retrieved the package and brought it back to me where I had to mark out a lot of things in order to get the second part done. First notary should lose his commission

Grace Mercado

31 Jan 2017

My first notary service was 11 years ago for my daughter-in-law. She completed the application requesting a certified copy of my granddaughters birth certificate. I was one happy grandmother to have had the opportunity to put my stamp on the application.

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