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Notary Essentials: Ensure Your Certificate Language Is Compliant

Certificate-fillout-resized.jpgUpdated 9-11-18. An important part of your Notary duties is making sure the certificate wording you use complies with your state’s requirements.

The wording or language in a Notary certificate is an essential part of the notarial act itself because it officially records and describes the details of the notarization. Custom wording drafted by a signer or wording from another state might not comply with your state's requirements. While the language used to convey these details varies from state to state and form to form, it should contain certain specific elements. 

The 4 Ws Of The Notarial Certificate

 

To figure out what you’re supposed to do, take a close look at the wording. Ideally, every notarial certificate should answer four key questions: where, who, when and what?

  • WHERE means the location where you notarize the document. The certificate should include the words “State of…” and “County of…” at the beginning of the certificate. This is often referred to as the venue.
  • WHO means the person whose signature you’re notarizing. Most Notary certificates will contain a blank space to insert the signer’s name.
  • WHEN means the date you perform the notarization. A Notary certificate should contain a space to enter the date of notarization.
  • WHAT refers to the type of notarial act you’re being asked to perform. Look for key words: the word “acknowledged” usually refers to an acknowledgment; the words “sworn” or “affirmed” can indicate a jurat.

In addition to answering the “4 Ws”, make sure there is a line for your official Notary signature and space for you to affix you Notary seal — if required.

There are exceptions to the 4 Ws. For example, some oath/affirmation certificates do not include a venue. Make sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements and guidelines.

Out-of-State Notary Certificates

 

If the Notary certificate comes from another state, you may wonder whether you can complete it. As a general rule, you may complete an out-of-state certificate as long as the wording complies with your state’s laws and it doesn’t ask you to do something you are not allowed to do.

There are exceptions. California Notaries, for example, are required by law to use specific certificate language exactly as it appears in statute for both acknowledgments if the document will be filed in California, and for all jurats regardless of where the document is filed. California also requires all acknowledgment, jurat and proof of execution certificates to include a boxed consumer notice above the venue that states the Notary is only identifying the document signer and is not verifying the truthfulness, accuracy or validity of the document. 

Florida Notaries must ensure that any acknowledgment and jurat certificate contains nine elements prescribed in statute:

  1. The venue stating the location of the notarization in the format “State of Florida, County of ________”;
  2. The type of notarial act performed, whether an oath or acknowledgment, as evidenced by the word “sworn” or “acknowledged”;
  3. A statement that the signer personally appeared before the Notary at the time of notarization;
  4. The true date of the notarial act;
  5. The name of the person whose signature is being notarized (“It is presumed, absent such specific notation by the notary public, that notarization is to all signatures.”);
  6. The specific type of identification the Notary is relying on in identifying the signer, either based on personal knowledge or satisfactory evidence;
  7. The Notary’s official signature;
  8. The Notary’s name — typed, printed or stamped below the signature;
  9. The Notary’s official seal affixed below or to either side of the Notary’s signature.

You should also know that a few states, such as Georgia, don’t have any specific certificate wording in their statutes.

Hybrid Certificate Wording
 

In some cases, a Notary certificate will combine both jurat and acknowledgment wording in the same certificate. This is often called a hybrid certificate. An example of hybrid wording is, “Acknowledged, subscribed and sworn to before me on (date).”

Keeping in mind what we said earlier about out-of-state certificates, with the example of the hybrid certificate above, you should perform a jurat or verification upon oath or affirmation. Why? Because the wording indicates you must administer an oath and watch the principal sign the document in your presence. An acknowledgment generally does not require you to do either. 

Two Certificates
 

A document for the purchase of real property may contain two certificates: one for the buyer, and one for the seller. If both the buyer and seller are at the signing table, you would complete the one certificate for the buyer and the other for the seller. In this case, you are performing two notarizations, and you would record each notarization in your journal separately.  

No Notarial Wording
 

What if the document doesn’t contain a Notary certificate? In general, you can’t perform the notarization without one. You’ll need to have the signer tell you which notarial act to perform or find out which one the document needs. Then you may complete and attach a separate certificate form with the appropriate notarial wording.

Only Maryland Notaries may witness the signing of a document without completing a notarial certificate. Known in Maryland as a “signature witnessing,” the Notary would take the following steps: obtain identification from the signer; observe the signing of the document; date, sign and stamp or seal the document; note on the document the date the Notary’s commission expires; and record the notarization in the Notary’s journal.

NotaryEssentials-Thumbnail.jpg

 

You can learn more from your state's Notary regulating agency website or your state’s Notary handbook. Or check out the NNA’s Notary Primers or U.S. Notary Reference Manual Online, which is a NNA member benefit. The NNA’s Notary Essentials eLearning course guides you through all your state's requirements.

 

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

Additional Resources:

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7 Comments

Add your comment

David Wire

21 Sep 2015

Here in California, with the changes that went into effect in January, 2015, we often get documents with pre-printed language or formatting that is no longer acceptable. In many cases, a loose certificate is the only option.

Thalia Arenas

21 Sep 2015

I am a California notary. What if it has some acknowledgment wording but isn't like the new statue reads and it is a document coming from the U.S. Department of State, specifically pointing to the "Issuance of a U.S. Passport to a Minor Under Age 16" where one parent gives the other parent permission to obtain the passport for their child. Can I write in the wording, attach a loose acknowledgment, or does a federal document supersede state law that I could notarize it as is?

National Notary Association

22 Sep 2015

Hello. As a CA Notary, you must use notarial wording that meets all the requirements of CA law. The signer should contact the issuing agency to ask if they will accept an attached certificate with the correct CA wording.

Reg Harper

23 Sep 2015

And for California notaries, let's not forget the new law that went into effect 1 Jan 2015 regarding the required notice that the Notary completing the certificate is only verifying the identity of the signer and not the truthfulness, accuracy or validity of the document...that must be in a "BOX" above the venue on the certificate!! I still see MANY pre-printed Acknowledgements and Jurats that do not have this notice on them...so a loose certificate is the only option for completion.

Diane

13 Oct 2016

Re: California using specific certificate language and document will be filed in California: if the document doesn't have the California required wording, I attach an acknowledgment form regardless of where it will be filed. In this situation, and since we have to use CA wording, why does it matter where it will be filed?

robert.hendricks@dignitymemorial.com

17 Sep 2018

I have a question, pertaining specifically to Indiana but possibly helpful to those in other states. What do you do in the cases where a pre-printed certificate leaves no space to affix your seal? Should we be attaching a new loose certificate?

National Notary Association

18 Sep 2018

Hello. If there is no room to affix a seal impression, you should attach a completed loose certificate with a proper seal impression.

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