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Notary Essentials: How Do I Handle A Credible Identifying Witness?

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Updated 10-3-17. In an ideal world, every signer would always have acceptable identification documents for a notarization. But that is often not the case, which means that an alternative method needs to be found to verify the signer’s identity — such as using one or more credible identifying witnesses.

Notaries often have questions about using credible identifying witnesses because many states don’t provide detailed rules. Here are tips for dealing with questions and gray areas regarding credible witnesses:

What Is A Credible Identifying Witness?

A credible identifying witness is an individual who knows and can verify the identity of a signer.

The witness appears at the time of the notarization and takes an oath or affirmation before the Notary that the signer is who they claim to be but lacks other forms of ID. Essentially, a credible identifying witness serves as a human ID card for the signer.

Typically, an identifying witness must personally know the signer and the Notary. Texas, for example, permits the use of a single credible witness who is personally known to the signer and the Notary. However, some states, such as California and Florida, permit the use of two credible identifying witnesses who aren’t known by the Notary personally but do know the signer and present proof of their own ID (such as a driver’s license).

What If The Witness Is A Family Member?

Being related to the signer doesn’t automatically disqualify a witness, but several states have laws stating that an identifying witness must be “impartial” (Massachusetts, Mississippi and New Mexico) or be unaffected by the transaction (Hawaii, Nebraska and North Carolina). Witnesses in California and Florida must swear as part of their oath that they do not have a financial interest in, nor are parties to, the underlying transaction. Depending upon the nature of the transaction, a close family member may not qualify to be a credible identifying witness.

For example, if a person asks you to notarize a document transferring ownership of a vehicle from the signer to his father, the father would not be “credible” as a witness because he stands to benefit from the transaction. However, if the father isn’t named in the title transferring the vehicle, he could serve as a witness.

How Well Should The Witness Know The Signer?

Technically, this isn’t the Notary’s call. If you personally know a credible identifying witness you may also know that the witness also knows the signer. However, you do not have a duty to investigate the relationship between a signer and witness. Your only duty is to properly administer the oath or affirmation compelling the witness to swear or affirm that he or she knows the signer. (Of course, if the witness lies in swearing to know the signer, the witness will be subject to the penalty of perjury.) 

What Kind Of ID Can I Accept From A Witness?

Many states that allow only one credible identifying witness require the witness to be personally known by the Notary. In these states, witnesses are not required to present ID. However, in some states — such as Arizona, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and West Virginia — one witness may present an identity document.

In these states as well as the states that allow for two identifying witnesses, a witness’s ID must come from the same statutory list of acceptable IDs that applies to the signer.

In states that don’t specify a particular form of ID, you may accept the same type of ID that you would ask of any signer. 

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

Unsure how to perform a notarization? Want to brush up on your skills? Notary Essentials can give you the expertise you need to perform the most common notarial acts in your state with ease and accuracy.


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19 Oct 2015

Is there a time limit/deadline in which a notary must notarize an executed mortgage document? Doesn't 145 days seem excessive?

National Notary Association

20 Oct 2015

Hello. As long as the signer shows up before the Notary to acknowledge signing the mortgage, the requirement for an acknowledgment has been met. We are not aware of any imposed deadline for notarization such as "145 days," but one thing that should be kept in mind is that the loan will have a rate lock. If the borrower doesn't sign the documents (including the mortgage) within the window of time determined by the lender, the rate lock will expire and the rate could possibly go up (or down).

Maria Barraza

10 Oct 2016

Love this articles that freshmen up our knowledge


06 Feb 2017

This was good for me, I kinda knew how to do a credible witness but wasn't sure about if they were related, had an issue come up and the mother was not a recipient of any personal gain so I used the "credible witness" form that I got from you (very short and easy to add to the document) so I did it right. Now know for sure, Thank you for putting these quizzes in as well. You guys are great!!!!

Karen Marshall

21 May 2017

When the credible identifying witness completes the affidavit, does that form remain with the document being executed by the signer or does the notary need to retain the affidavit for our records?

National Notary Association

22 May 2017

Hello. State rules regarding use of credible witnesses vary. To help us provide you with the correct information for your jurisdiction, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?


22 May 2017

Credible Witness for the state of Md, could not find information in the handbook if this is allowed.

National Notary Association

23 May 2017

Hello. Maryland does not provide guidelines for the use of credible identifying witnesses. The state Handbook for Notaries Public says, "“Satisfactory proof is that amount of proof which is sufficient to convince the notary public that the person making the acknowledgment is the person described in the document, and the one who executed it. A good rule for a notary public to follow would be to require such proof of identification as he or she would require to cash a very large check for that person."

John Axt

09 Oct 2017

In Florida, the use of a single credible witness known to both the subject and the notary is authorized under the law. Two credible witnesses must used if the notary does not know them. There is also an affidavit that the credible witnesses sign. This should be kept by the notary.

Francine Arcoleo

09 Oct 2017

How can I get a copy of the Credible Witness form? Thanks.

National Notary Association

10 Oct 2017

Hello Francine. A credible witness is simply a method of identification-essentially a "human ID card." It is not a separate notarial act.

Gerard Ashton

09 Oct 2017

My state (VT) has no requirement that the signer lack identification documents, and the credible witness need not swear to a lack of identification documents. Situations where this could come up would be the identification documents having a different version of the name, or the document with the right version of the name being inaccessible (say, in a safe deposit box).

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