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What's Keeping Notaries Awake At Night

Notary Anxieties

(Originally published in the April 2016 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

Every day 4.4 million Notaries wake up to a nation that relies upon notarial acts to get their business done. Whether you perform acknowledgments, jurats, copy certifications or other state-authorized official acts, the public service you provide helps bring trust to our citizens’ transactions, keeps consumer confidence high, and supports our nation’s economic growth.

While achieving these goals might seem routine to those you serve, you know that’s often not true. You never really know what unusual, difficult or deceptive situation might come across your desk on any given day.

It’s these unknowns that are keeping you awake at night. Most Notaries have a rough, general idea about the issues that trouble them. In a recent survey of more than 600 Notaries — and a resulting lively discussion in our social media communities — you overwhelmingly expressed two top anxieties: doing your job right and staying out of trouble. Those are easy issues to identify because, if they go wrong, either of them could land you in court, facing administrative actions, or on the wrong side of a hefty financial judgment.

But the questions still loom: How can I be sure that I’m doing my job right? And what can I do to stay out of trouble? In response to your concerns, The National Notary consulted with industry experts and experienced Notaries to offer guidance in five key areas that, if you address them, will alleviate most of your anxieties and help you get a better night’s sleep.

Anxiety No. 1: Am I Really Trained Enough As A Notary?

Many Notaries are performing notarizations every day with little or no training at all, not even realizing the risks to themselves, the public and their employers. “An incompetent Notary may have a negative effect not only on their employer and themselves, but on how the public and clients perceive them,” said Jessica McGarry, a paralegal and Notary with Nationwide Title Clearing, Inc., in Palm Harbor, Florida. There are several things you can do to make sure you are really trained enough to provide the right service to signers:

  • Find a state-specific Notary education course offered by your state, or a vendor of your choice, that covers the specifics of your state’s regulations and procedures. Make sure you constantly review areas that are confusing or unclear.
  • Find and enroll in a quality continuing education course, like the NNA’s Notary Essentials, that provides practical knowledge and guidance on notarization practices. A good course is updated annually to account for changes in procedures or business practices.
  • Keep a copy of your state’s Notary handbook or a Notary Law Primer, published by the NNA, and review them often.
  • Print out a copy of the 10 guiding principles of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility and follow them religiously, even if your state doesn’t require some of the steps.

Anxiety No. 2: Am I Keeping Up With Legal, Procedural And Regulatory Changes?

So you’ve done your training and you’re properly insured and you’re out in your community performing notarizations. You’re doing everything right. Right? Well the actual answer could be “maybe,” especially if you haven’t been keeping up with changes to Notary laws, regulations or business practices that affect the clients you serve. In the past year alone there have been major changes to Notary laws in several states and industries that affect how Notaries perform their duties. 

No matter your state, there are simple steps you can take to keep abreast of changes in your state or industry:

  • Join a quality industry association that has weekly or monthly newsletters and/or state-specific alerts to notify you of any significant changes.
  • Visit the NNA’s Notary Law updates database at least once a month, as you can search all Notary law and regulation changes by state.
  • Subscribe to the NNA’s Notary Bulletin for weekly industry updates.
  • Watch your Secretary of State’s website — or the site of the office that regulates Notaries in your state, for official announcements.
  • Join a robust social media community of Notaries in your state or region on Facebook or LinkedIn that stays on top of changes.

Anxiety No. 3: Am I Prepared To Handle Uninformed Signers?

Countless times every single day, people go to Notaries and say, “I need something notarized.” They don’t know that there are different types of notarization or the type of ID you can accept. And that’s just the beginning. They look to you to for advice and guidance, and if you won’t give it, they can get angry. But there are simple ways to counter these situations:

  • Keep your Secretary of State’s Notary handbook readily available.
  • Familiarize yourself with the requirements of your state through the NNA’s Law Summaries or Notary Law Primers.
  • For general advice, check out the NNA’s library of “Commonly Asked Questions” webinars.
  • Reach out to the NNA Hotline for those sticky situations.

Anxiety No. 4: Where Can I Find the Support And Answers I Need For Notary Questions?

No matter how straightforward your duties might appear, situations can come up that stump the most experienced Notary. It could be a strange document you’ve never seen before. What if someone wanted you to notarize their tattoo? What if your signer has no hands or is visually impaired? What if your customer is a minor? What if your customer asks you to certify that they are alive? Or what if the document makes outlandish or fraudulent claims?

So how do you find answers to make sure you do what’s right?

  • Learn your way around your Secretary of State’s website. They may have alerts, bulletins or other notices posted with relevant information.
  • Keep up with posts on the Notary Bulletin; we often publish content about unusual situations.
  • Call the NNA Hotline for answers you can’t find anywhere else.

Anxiety No. 5: Am I Properly Insured?

Ask any Notary what their number one concern is about what they do, and you’ll often hear the same response: “The liability I’ll face if something goes wrong.” That’s true whether you’re notarizing titles for auto dealerships, mortgage loans, powers of attorney or anything else that represents a signer’s or employer’s interests. The reality is if you make a mistake that causes someone significant financial damage, you can, and often will, be sued.

In most cases a simple errors and omissions insurance policy in the amount of $25,000 should be plenty of insurance coverage. In fact, industry leaders with the Signing Professionals Workgroup have cautioned Notaries who obtain policies with higher loss limits because they could amount to “lawyer bait,” meaning the more coverage you have access to, the more likely it is an attorney will chase after you. To assess your insurance coverage, consider the following:

  • Know the difference between your surety bond and E&O insurance, who they protect and how they work (see the November 2012 edition of The National Notary).
  • Understand what E&O insurance covers. For example, coverage does not extend to fraudulent acts or intentional errors.
  • If you are performing notarizations for an employer, know what your company’s “umbrella” insurance policy covers and what it doesn’t. For example, does your employer’s policy cover only job-related notarizations, or will it cover notarizations performed off the clock?
  • Obtain an E&O policy in the amount of $25,000 from a reliable surety provider. Ultimately, the best way to vanquish those anxieties and sleep soundly at night is, to borrow from the Boy Scouts motto, always be prepared.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association. Phillip Browne is Vice President of Communications at the National Notary Association.

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