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Personal Appearance: The best protection for Notaries

Updated 1-16-24. The best way to protect yourself from being sued for performing a notarization is to require every signer to appear in person before you.

In fact, every state requires signers to personally appear before a Notary to thwart forgeries and frauds involving notarized documents. Requiring a signer to be present allows you to properly identify the signer and complete all the other proper steps of a notarization. It also may deter individuals bent on committing crimes from carrying out their plans.

Legal consequences of notarizing without personal appearance

Most lawsuits against Notaries happen because they notarized the signature of someone who wasn’t present. Here are actual examples:

  • A candidate was disqualified in a local election because the signature gatherers were not present before the Notary when their signatures were notarized on his nominating papers.
  • Thousands of borrowers lost their homes when employees of mortgage servicers notarized affidavits supporting scores of foreclosures without the signers present.
  • An elderly individual lost his life savings when a “caregiver” asked the individual to sign a power of attorney naming the caregiver as his agent and then had it notarized without the individual knowing it and being present before the Notary.
  • An employee of a small business asked the owner, who was a Notary, to notarize a signature on a grant deed. The owner didn’t realize the employee had forged his parent’s signature. This enabled the employee to take out a large refinance loan on the property without his parent knowing it.

In these and other instances, the Notaries faced their own legal consequences of failing to require the signer to personally appear.

The best way to protect yourself and minimize risk of Notary liability is to enforce the personal appearance requirement for every notarization. This also protects the public and the transaction.

Questions from Notaries about remote online notarizations

Some Notaries have asked if they are allowed to perform remote online notarizations using online audiovisual communications technologies. 

Most states have enacted permanent laws that authorize Notaries to perform remote online notarizations. With a remote notarization, the signer and Notary appear before each other using technology that allows them to simultaneously communicate with each other by sight and sound. Think of remote online notarization as a new way for signers to personally appear before a Notary. Since not all states have enacted these laws, Notaries in states that don't authorize remote notarization must still require the signer to appear physically in person before the Notary. 

Bill Anderson is Vice President of Government Affairs with the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

4 lawsuits, 4 lessons in Notary liability

10 steps Notaries can take to avoid being sued

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Add your comment

Bobbi in CT

07 Mar 2016

What about the advertised "webinar" or "Skype" style notarization that is being promoted? I've read that these "not physically present" based on lawsuit definitions, forms of notarization are legal in some states. Does the NNA agree with those State laws that promote this form of notarization? Personally, if I can't "reach out and touch someone" and the two forms of required identification, I would not sign up as an "internet" notary public. Too much personal financial liability for too little fee.

Dianna L Hanson

07 Mar 2016

NNA Ambassador


06 Mar 2017

It would be good to note that there is a difference between appearing before the notary and signing before the notary. In California, you don't need to sign the document in front of the notary. You just need to bring the signed document to the notary and confirm that it is your signature on the document.


26 Feb 2018

I wanted information on the difference between a notary and notary signer Thank you

National Notary Association

26 Feb 2018

Hello. More information is available at this page:


26 Feb 2018

It would be nice for the NNA to come out against Webcam....this will undue your entire NSA program and many notaries will loose their income.


07 Jan 2019

Not so fast Diane, all Jurats ust be signed in front a of notary in CA. No exceptions. I hope you haven't been doing otherwise, because if so, you're in violation and subject to fines from the CA SoS.

Janice Gardner

14 Jan 2020

Is it possible for a signing agent to sign documents in other states other than your home seat state?

National Notary Association

14 Jan 2020

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

Janice Gardner

14 Jan 2020

Is it possible for a signing agent to sign documents in other states other than your home seat state?

National Notary Association

15 Jan 2020

Hello Janice. It depends on your state's jurisdiction rules for Notary commissions. If your state only authorizes Notaries to perform your duties within the borders your own state, then you can't notarize in other states.

Latisha Millard

01 Jun 2020

I had someone ask if they could complete the signer's signature for them due to COVID. First-NO then I explained that since I must physically see the person and that I would cancel the appointment for safety reasons.


12 Jan 2022

Are we required to offer remote online notarizations if our state allows the process?

National Notary Association

12 Jan 2022

Hello. No, Notaries are not required to offer remote notarization services.

Donna Adler

01 Feb 2024

If the document requires witnesses, must the witnesses also appear before the notary at the time of notarizarion? I am in Illinos.

National Notary Association

23 Feb 2024

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

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