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5 Sound Practices That Steer You Clear Of Lawsuits And Costly Errors

New-Lawsuit-resized.jpgUpdated 3-26-19. It's easy to make a mistake when notarizing that can lead to lawsuits. However, following the recommended practices below greatly reduces your chances of getting yourself in legal trouble. 

1. Always Require Personal Appearance

Before you can notarize someone’s signature, the signer must personally appear before you. Almost every state defines that as face-to-face, in the same room. That’s the only way you can verify that your signers are who they say they are, signing of their own free will and fully aware of what’s happening.

[Note: A number of states now allow the personal appearance requirement to be satisfied remotely with an audio-video conference over the internet. For more information, please see our Remote Online Notarization FAQ.]

Newer Notaries are often tripped up by this requirement, especially when a signer asks them to make ‘just one exception’. But you need to stick to your guns. Be pleasant and straightforward when you tell your client that all signers must appear in the flesh, at the time of the notarization, and not before or after — but be firm.

2. Master Identification Requirements

Most states provide guidelines on what constitutes acceptable ID from a signer, so make sure you’re familiar with them. Some states, like Florida and California, list the specific identification documents Notaries may accept in state law. Other states permit Notaries to accept any ID that meets state requirements — for example, Texas allows Notaries to accept an ID issued by the federal or any state government that is current and includes the person's photo and signature. Check your official Notary handbook, if your state publishes one. NNA members also can check the online U.S. Notary Reference Manual.

Once you’re clear on which IDs you may accept, always be careful during notarizations to confirm the information on the ID matches your signer’s description — such as eye color and height. And be alert for any discrepancies. Take your time. The NNA Hotline is available to help with any questions.

3. Avoid Pressure To Rush

Even experienced Notaries can get rattled when asked to notarize a large number of signatures by a signer or employer who’s stressed and in a hurry. But when you rush, it’s easy to miss a basic step that can invalidate the notarization and even lead to legal or financial consequences later on.

“Make sure you do not allow signers to hurry you at any point,” advises Arizona NSA Kathy Fletcher, the NNA 2013 Notary of the Year. “As a Notary you must be in control. I always check each document after each page is signed and once again before I leave the signer’s location. This universally decreases errors.”

4. Scan And Complete The Certificate Properly

When completing the certificate, make sure all the details are correct. You also should scan the document in order to:

  • Check for blank spaces. Some states mandate there are no blanks on a document and other states just strongly recommend it.
  • Note any details (such as the document title) that your state requires recording in your journal entry.

Scanning the document does not mean reading it for details. Just glance over it sufficiently to get the information you need.

5. Know How To Handle Emotional Signers

Many notarizations can involve stressful situations, especially if the documents involve major financial transactions for your signers — such as deeds, mortgages, trusts and powers of attorney. Any little glitch or speed bump can make signers upset.

“We get a lot of Hotline calls about the elderly parent who suddenly becomes catastrophically ill, and there’s no power of attorney in place,” says Patti Wulfestieg, the NNA’s Manager, Hotline and Compliance. “The grown children are usually desperate to get the paperwork notarized before it’s too late.”

While that’s understandable, if the signer is not aware or able to communicate clearly, you have no choice but to refuse to complete the notarization. Some may become upset and frustrated by your refusal. “Some even may become belligerent,” Wulfestieg says.

“When I get rude or anxious clients, I immediately put a calming strategy in place,” says Laura Biewer, an NNA seminar instructor and a traveling Notary. Among her tips:

  • Slow down and allow several minutes for settling in and getting everyone comfortable.
  • Listen more than you think you need to, make eye contact and smile often.
  • Acknowledge your client’s emotions by saying something like, “I understand how this makes you feel.” Be extra sensitive to the stresses that they may be experiencing. 

Paying close attention to your signer and communicating calmly and openly about any confusion can allay anxieties and ensure a successful and pleasant appointment.

Additional Resources:

Notary Errors & Omissions Insurance FAQ

 

21 Comments

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Jeanne Fortier

03 May 2016

Had a customer scream at me this morning because I would not notarize her signature on a piece of paper that contained only her signature line and the notary statement. She would not show me what document was to be attached. She said it was none of my business. She also stated she had been a notary and knew I could not request to see the document I was notarizing her signature for. I still stand by my refusal, and unfortunately she will not be a customer here anymore.

Poppy Romero

12 May 2016

I was threatened to be removed forever from a database after refusing to conduct a signing with two misprinted names, one for a man who couldn't even write his own date much less correct his name everywhere it appeared incorrectly and sign in a 200 page refinance file.

Lissette Villacampa

08 Jun 2016

Can I check on my Notary renewal through you? My actual Notary expires this October 2016. Thank you.

National Notary Association

13 Jun 2016

Hello. Please contact our Customer Care team at 1-800-876-6827 and they should be able to assist you.

Hugh (Washington state)

16 Jan 2017

Although Poppy's comment is more amusing, Jeanne's is more instructive: Does a blank document constitute a "document" for acknowledgment? It sounds like it should be considered a form of loose certificate, which should have a description of the companion document, as well as the Notary physically attaching it (stapling) to the actual document.

Nancy Graham

17 Jan 2017

Thank you Hugh, I've seen examples of this and the signer always gives me the document and I attach them. I'm usually familiar with the document since I notarize at work. I don't think I'm doing anything wrong.

Norma Jean Sierra

22 Mar 2017

Hi I really like the comments and general information discussed here. I do have a question. How or where do we go to get information regarding practicing attorneys can and can not do with the notary process? I have lots of questions. For example: can an attorney sign a document as a representative of their client? Can an attorney use a notary's supplies including their stamp? Trying to figure all this out.

National Notary Association

23 Mar 2017

Hi Norma. A Notary's stamp is the sole property of the Notary and no one else is permitted to use the Notary's seal, whether they are an attorney or not. If you have other questions relating to attorneys and Notaries and you are an NNA member, you can email your questions to hotline@nationalnotary.org. Non-NNA members can have one question answered at no charge, but further questions require purchasing NNA membership.

Roberta carbone

08 Apr 2017

Can I notarize a signature with same lasts name as me? Can I notarize a relative with the same last name as mine?

National Notary Association

10 Apr 2017

Hi Roberta. To help us answer your question can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Patricia Sheridan

01 May 2017

Do all Notary signatures require use of the Seal? Also, I sometimes am asked to Notarize a document that doesn't have the Notary Signature Block so I just "create my own" is that Okay to do?

National Notary Association

01 May 2017

Hello Patricia. Since different states address this issue differently, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?

Lorraine W Pereverziev

01 May 2017

The one thing I would add to this very helpful information is to go through the document or documents you are dealing with at least two times, if not three, to make certain nothing has been overlooked. I often catch things the second time through that I didn't notice on the first scan. It has saved me on many occasions, particularly when dealing with a large number of documents.

Mona Wilder

01 May 2017

I enjoy reading this because there are so many good points and is very helpful. Thank you for sharing this.

Caroline Page

05 May 2017

This information is very helpful. Thanks! I am in Tennessee and have 2 questions: (1) regarding the commission expiration date. Often it is missing from the document. Should we add it? (2) I have not taken the NNA exam because there is so much information to learn so I'm trying to free up more study time. In the meantime, I have received several calls for notary work. When I explained to one caller I was not yet eligible because I had not received my certificate he said I should correct this information in my profile. Is there a profile I need to correct?

National Notary Association

10 May 2017

Hello. A Tennessee Notary’s commission expiration date must appear on every acknowledgment certificate (TCA 8-16-112). If you are an NNA member and have a SigningAgent.com profile that needs information corrected, please contact our Customer Care team at 1-800-876-6827 and they can assist you.

Lee Medley

23 Apr 2018

In Indiana, is it permissible for a Notary Public to also witness the same document, assuming the Notary has no interest in the subject matter.

National Notary Association

23 Apr 2018

Hello. Please contact our Hotline Team at hotline@nationalnotary.org for assistance with this question. Thanks.

James

23 Apr 2018

I am so very beyond sick of people asking "well can you make an exception?" when they don't have ID or when they want something notarized without appearing in person. Why? What makes you so special that you can be an exception?

Yukita Manuel

23 Apr 2018

I love coming on the site reading other notary experiences. I now see I'm not the only one experiencing the occasional nut...

James N

23 Apr 2018

I always let the customer know that my directions have to be followed and I will not allow any deviations. I always make sure that every requirement is met before I will print information, sign or attach my seal, including being paid.

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