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Dealing With Notary Errors On Government Documents

Dealing With Notary Errors On Government Documents

Updated 8-24-20. Many government forms require notarization and come with preprinted notarial wording. However, sometimes wording on a government document doesn't meet the requirements of your state's Notary laws.

The agency may be unaware of your state's specific Notary requirements, or the form could be outdated, missing critical information, or contain other errors that can cause problems down the line. Therefore, you need to be able to recognize issues with Notary certificates and know how to fix them.

Fixing Errors In Notarial Certificates 

The only way to identify problems with government-issued documents is to be familiar with your state’s Notary requirements, including the types of notarial acts you may perform and the correct certificate wording.

For starters, examine the document and ask yourself four basic questions:

  • Where? Does the document include a space to record the location where the notarization takes place (often indicated by the words “State of...” and “County of...”)?
  • When? Is there a space in the notarial wording to record the date of notarization? (Make sure the date is accurate.)
  • Who? Does the wording contain a blank to insert the name of the person whose signature is being notarized, or to whom the Notary must administer the oath or affirmation? 
  • What? What type of notarial act does the form require you to perform, and are you authorized by your state to perform it? Stated another way, what, exactly, is the notarial wording asking you to certify and is it a certification you can make as a Notary?

If you are unable to answer one or more of these questions, you should halt the notarization until the question is answered.

You should ask the signer to contact the issuing or receiving agency for alternative solutions, such as using a notarial certificate authorized by your state. If that doesn’t work, the signer may need to seek the assistance of an attorney.

Two Problem Government Documents 

To illustrate, we'll highlight two of the more common problem forms: the U.S. Department of State passport application for a minor and a Thrift Savings Plan document.

Passport Application For A Minor: (Updated 7-24-18) The 08-2016 version of the U.S. State Department Form DS-3053 (Statement of Consent: Issuance of a Passport to a Minor) requires a Notary to perform a jurat or verification upon oath or affirmation for a document signer. Notaries in states where the certificate wording printed on the DS-3053 meets state law requirements may notarize the document. However, the California Secretary of State's office has confirmed that California Notaries may not complete a Form DS-3053 without attaching a California jurat form.

Thrift Savings Plan: This document fails the “Where” question. It requires an acknowledgment and contains acknowledgment wording that complies with most states' laws. However, there isn't space for you to record where the notarization took place, nor does it allow room for you to affix your seal. In addition, the document states that no additional certificates will be allowed, meaning you can't complete and attach an acceptable acknowledgment form with a proper venue statement.

These examples show that you don’t want to assume that the document preparer will always get it right. Instead, trust your own training and Notary knowledge.

Remember, if you have questions or concerns about a notarization, you can always contact the NNA Hotline. NNA counselors may have experience with the particular document in front of you and provide an acceptable solution.

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



Add your comment

Mister J

26 Aug 2015

So is the Federal Government ever actually going to change these? In reality, these documents undoubtedly get notarized by state notary publics all the time without hesitation. Is anybody in their right mind ever going to challenge the validity of notarizations on forms produced by the Federal Government? And in the first example, I *really* don't think the notary is made to "notarize their own oath." The notary is obviously notarizing the oath of the non-applying parent or guardian, which is right underneath the line telling the signer that he or she "must sign this form in front of a notary."

Richard Parker

31 Aug 2015

I have had to challenge the validity of the notarial statement on the Note. Fannie Mae decided to put in a statement for the commonwealth of Virginia where the notary is to certify that it is the Note attached to the security instrument. The problem is, notaries are not allowed to certify this type of document in Virginia. And when I talked to the commonwealth's secretary, I was told that Fannie Mae did this without checking with Virginia to see if it would be valid. I have had to go through the process of explaining why this is not valid to all of my clients and get their instruction to use an Acknowledgment to cover the required notarization.


02 Sep 2015

So, do we just deny these types of documents and/or tell them to notify the government in regards to what they should do next? -CA

Mister J

11 Sep 2015

When I referred to "challenging the validity," I meant *after* the fact.... as in, some interested party questioning a federal document that has already been fully executed, simply based on the fact that the completed notary certificate is not exactly what individual states want. How many hundreds of thousands of these documents are already on file? Is somebody going to go through and try to have them all annulled because of some technical minutiae with the notarizations?


29 Oct 2015

Regarding the TSP form, it seems to me that entering "county of X" and "state of Y" on the jurisdiction line would fulfill the"where" requirement.

Ardel Richter

31 Jul 2017

You name 2 documents that have known issues, yet don't provide a 'fix'.

National Notary Association

31 Jul 2017

Hello. As stated in the article, if a Notary encounters a government document that requests an act the Notary cannot perform, the Notary should ask the signer to contact the issuing or receiving agency for alternative solutions, such as using a notarial certificate authorized by your state. If that doesn’t work, the signer may need to seek the assistance of an attorney.

Billy Bob

31 Jul 2017

The passport form is not asking the notary to "notarize" their own signature. Looks fine.

Billy Bob

31 Jul 2017

Regarding the TSP form, I've encountered several documents that don't leave enough space for a completely clear stamp. In these situations, I ask the client what they want. If they want to squish the stamp in with overlying text, that's fine by me so long as it's fine by them. Not best practice, but worse to delay critical documents because dorks in an office don't have the time to change their forms.

Karen S

10 Aug 2017

Really Billy Bob? Dorks in the office? Do you have any idea how convoluted it is to change a government form?


10 Aug 2017

TSP form instructions specifically state that no attachment or alteration to the wording will negate the document. A lot of government employees use the $$ in their TSP (401) as security for a home purchase or other large item. I can't see the Feds changing their form language quickly to accommodate a home purchase - unless the escrow period is a couple of years.....


22 Jul 2019

I notarize TSP forms all the time. The notary can certainly write in the venue above the notarial statement - there's not a lot of room but it's possible to do it. I also squeeze my stamp in after carefully placing it - my stamp will indeed fit but it requires some careful alignment. Notary stamps have indents or lines on all sides that can assist the notary with exactly where to place it - simply line it up properly and with care as best you can.


23 Jul 2019

California notary, I ordered a California Jurat stamp for these types of documents. I get at least 2 requests for minors to get a passport, and having the stamp has made the transactions seamless. I have never have one denied, and when I called the SOS in CA they said that the Jurat stamp would work.


23 Jul 2019

As for TSP, my office is next to a base so I get Thrift (TSP) daily. California is so strict with what is allowed and wording that I've learned what will be rejected and what wont. With the TSP's in particular, I know that it states that no other form will be accepted except for the notary but I do the California Acknowledgment and attach it, and tell the customer that it is missing CA wording. I have done thousands and have never had one rejected or come back.

Jerry Lucas

03 Sep 2020

I rarely get a request to notarize Form DS-3053 Consent for Minor Passport. I consider it to be a defective form and I decline to notarize. It appears to have one sworn statement made by the parent (affiant) above their signature line and then another sworn statement made by the notary above the notary signature line. I cannot notarize my own sworn statement. The wording is not valid Colorado jurat certificate wording. The notary must swear that: OATH: By signing this document, I certify that I am a licensed notary under laws and regulations of the state or country for which I am performing my notarial duties, that I am not related to the above affiant, that I have personally witnessed him/her sign this document, and that I have properly verified the identity of the affiant by personally viewing the above notated identification document and the matching photocopy. I do not have a notary license, I have a notary commission. Under Colorado law, I cannot notarize for immediate family members, but I am allowed to notarize for more distant relatives such as aunts, uncles, and cousins. It is not my role as a notary to examine photocopies of ID documents as part of a jurat process. I can make a certified copy of certain original documents upon separate request. Note that the current version of Form DS-3053, dated 08-2016 will expire on 09/30/2020. Maybe they will release a corrected version of this form.

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