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What Would You Do: The case of the confused father

Notarizing for confused father

The Notary Hotline receives hundreds of calls daily from Notaries nationwide who find themselves in challenging situations. To boost your knowledge of Notary best practices, we’ve created a series of scenarios based on actual situations and ask a simple question: What would you do?

A friend contacts you and asks you to notarize her father’s signature on healthcare documents. “I need to let you know, last week the doctor diagnosed him with early-stage Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Don’t worry, it hasn’t affected him seriously yet, but we need to get these papers signed as soon as possible to make sure his affairs are in order.”

You arrive and speak with the father. He seems pleasant, alert, and chats with you normally before the notarization. When the documents are presented he looms puzzled. He turns to your friend and says, “I don’t have my head on straight today. What are these documents for again?”

He laughs self-consciously and turns back to you. “I’m so sorry,” he says, “I’ve been unusually tired today and can’t seem to think straight, but I think I’m all right now. Let’s go ahead and get this done.”

What would you do?

The fact that the signer has early Alzheimer’s and seems tired and forgetful is worrisome … but he says he feels well enough to proceed.  What do ypu think is the best way to handle this situation?

To participate in this week’s “What Would You Do?” scenario, share your answers in the comment section below. We may mention your response in next week’s Bulletin, when we share the best answers to this notarial challenge.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

A Notary’s role in preventing elder financial exploitation

Notary Basics: Determining a signer’s awareness

Ensuring successful notarizations for hospital and rehab patients


Add your comment

octavia smith

22 Aug 2016

I would explain the notary process again to the client, ask if they understand and complete it. No time to wait in this situation.

Brent Gill

22 Aug 2016

I've had this happen on more than one occasion, and in various ways. First, one is sworn to provide notarial service to the public, but one also has to protect their commission. The key is the individual's capacity. If they declare they know what they are doing, understand the document, I've proceeded. On more than one occasion I've declined because of, in my sole opinion, they did not have the capacity. Most folks in early stages of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, have good and bad times of the day. If it seemed as if an individual were incapable of understanding, I've asked the family if another time of day would be better for the signer. The common response is often something like, "Oh, yes. Dad (or Mom) is always brighter first thing in the morning." And several times I've been able to get a solid comprehension answer the next morning early, from someone who the night before was very confused. The hardest part is sticking to your guns about not doing it without, in the notary's opinion, the signer being aware of the importance of the document. This is often a Power of Attorney giving a child of the signer the ability to conduct business on behalf of the signer. I refused one time and got called every name in the book by an angry son. As I quickly escaped the building, toward my car, I was even more convinced my decision had been correct. The signer was alone in the room when I arrived early to check on capacity. I stopped by the office in the Rest Home, to let managment know I was in the building. When I said the signer's name, and that I was there to do a notary job, the eyebrows of the manager went up. Nothing was said at that time, but when I got to the room the signer was unaware of where they were, what day it was, or anything else. As I checked back through the office, I told the manager I wasn't able to complete the job, and the response was a quick nod, "Good." When I met the son coming in the door of the lobby, he yelled several obscenities at me causing quite a stir among everyone in earshot. The notary has to ask about capacity, and then has to make their decision based solely on what they see and hear. We cannot rely on the opinions of others who may be highly desirous of having that Power of Attorney signed allow them access to the almighty dollar of a parent or other family member.

Annette Newcomb

22 Aug 2016

Although speaking to him previously where he is pleasant and alert, and then is confused, I would politely excuse myself from the signing and come back in a few hours, or the next day when he is completely of sound mind and body.


22 Aug 2016

Talk to him. Ask him if he understands what he's signing and ask him to briefly describe the document.

don blose

22 Aug 2016

Begin a normal conversation about something else, weather, family, sports and gauge their appropriateness to sign. If good, have them sign.

Margaret LaPierre

22 Aug 2016

I would request a written statement from the person's physician and/or have them represented by legal counsel.

Debby Duke

22 Aug 2016

My father has Alzheimer's as did my mother-in-law. In the early stages, they know that there is something just not right, but they are able to bluff their way though situations. I would recommend that a Notary do their due diligence to assure that the signor understands what the document is that they are signing. If they need to be reminded by the person who is accompanying them, they should not continue with the notarization. This underscores the need for everyone to make arrangements for a Power of Attorney and to keep it updated, while they are able to do so.

Hon. Dr. Casey Lewis

22 Aug 2016

I did experience a situation like this, a friend from my church asked me to notarize her Aunts information, a will, a health directive, when I arrived at the nursing home the Aunt could not speak in an audible fashion, I called the doctor and asked him how her condition was and has been, he said she seemed fine the other day, I then proceeded to try and talk with her, she was still confused, I then told her niece, my friend I could not notarize the information because her Aunt did not seem to understand at this point.

Constance Srinivasan

22 Aug 2016

While he may have stated that he feels well enough to proceed and wants to get it done, he also stated that he does not know what the documents are. I would ask him to review the documents for a few minutes to refresh his memory. If he still is unable to understand what the documents are, then he cannot sign them knowingly and willingly. I would tell my friend that we need to try again when her dad is clear on what the documents are.

Judy Beverly

22 Aug 2016

While looking at his ID, I would probably ask him some knowledge based questions. For instance: What is your birthdate? and/or What is your mailing address? If he remains calm while he answers those questions, I would make certain he knew what type of document was being executed. If he remains calm while he correctly answers all these questions, I would proceed with the notary. If he cannot answer them, or seems confused or gets flustered, I would politely refuse to perform the service.

Deborah Rhoden

22 Aug 2016

To me this situation is very clear. I would not notarize the documents unless the father (signer) could clearly explain to me what the documents are and what they are for without asking the daughter. I might offer to come back another time, if they thought he would be more clear-headed.

Ira Wasserman

22 Aug 2016

It is not the notary's job to make a medical diagnosis. The notary should proceed in the same manner they would for every signing involving an elderly signer and try to determine through questioning if they understand why they are signing. The answer should determine whether to proceed with the signing.

Jean Ladd

22 Aug 2016

First, I would ask that all other parties leave the room. Then I would ask the gentleman some simple questions about the document he is about to sign. I would also state that I could return at a later date if he is not feeling up to it now. In any case, all of this would be recorded in my ledger.

Hector Romero

22 Aug 2016

Start date?

MaryAnn Guiliano

22 Aug 2016

I don't think I would do this service for him. I am not comfortable notarizing someone signature knowing that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the early stage. He was still diagnosed that is the key word. You really don't know that this could come back and haunt you later on. Especially dealing with health care issues. So again my answer is no I would not do. I don't want to lose my notary license. Thank you.

22 Aug 2016

I would make sure he understands what he is signing and why by having him explain it to me. If he cannot verbalize his understanding, I would offer to come back on another day when he felt more rested. I would not notarize unless he can clearly explain to me what the documents are and what will be the results of his signing them.

carroll straus

22 Aug 2016

I'd ask the third party to leave the room and see if the signer understands what he is signing. If he does, I'd proceed.

Michael E Harris

22 Aug 2016

Some Alzheimer's patients are much better in the morning and fade in the afternoon. I would walk through the notary process again and then ask him if he understands. If not, I would suggest that I visit in the morning after the man has had breakfast. This might work.

Susan Barnes

22 Aug 2016

Working for a physician, I would request that the friend brings me a note from the patient's physician stating that this patient can understand what he is signing. For all you know, he could be giving away his right to handle financial affairs or a substantial retirement fund. I need more information as to what the paperwork was for and why they didn't go to his bank.t

Carroll Straus

22 Aug 2016

I'd ask the daughter to leave, and inquire if the signer knows r what he is sighing. If he does, I'd proceed

Linda Rogers

22 Aug 2016

I would ask the gentleman to explain to me what the document meant. Having dealt with my own mother's and mother-in-law's Alzheimer's, I know that they are very good at bluffing and pretending that they understand, but when asked direct questions couldn't explain it. If he can't explain in his own words what the document is for, then I wouldn't notarize it.

Cathy B

22 Aug 2016

Since the person is a friend I would not do the notary. That way if the notarization or signer's competency were challenged no one could say it was done inappropriately because of the friendship.


22 Aug 2016

Even though I might be comfortable with the responses of the person And under different circumstances be willing to perform the notarial action I would tell my friend that it would be in everyone's best interest for me to decline to notarize the documents. If the action were to be questioned my friendship with my friend may jeaprodize the action from an objectivity basis. It would be better for her to seek a truly objective third party notary.


22 Aug 2016

Friend or no friend, I would ask third-party to leave the room. I would proceed to speak to signer alone to make sure he understands what he is signing. If I don't feel confident that he is aware of what is going on, I would politely offer to return later or on another day.


22 Aug 2016

I would ask the signer to explain to me what he's signing and what his understanding of the document is. That way, I can get a good idea of whether or not he is a willing participant.

Donna San Juan

22 Aug 2016

Is it possible to ask that the signer's physician be present as well? This is a very grey area and one I am definitely not comfortable with, especially since I am very new to being a notary.

Lewis Terr

22 Aug 2016

I would engage the gentleman in easy conversation and move rather directly to asking him if he understood the nature and effect of the document he was offering to execute. If he said he did, I would then ask him to explain it in his own words.

Susan Kehoe-Sutphin

22 Aug 2016

From experience - the early stages have more and longer moments of lucidity. Whomever is arranging for the notarization has to be very clear about when the person is lucid. And the notary needs to also determine during preparatory conversation that this is a moment of lucidity.

Tina Wallace

22 Aug 2016

I've been in this situation on several occasions. I chat with the client, alone, if possible, to ensure they are aware of what they're signing. During the signing I keep talking with the client, again to ensure their awareness. It can be difficult.


22 Aug 2016

I would probably ask him to talk to me about his family and show him pictures of them and see if he recognizes them as well as have him repeat back to me what the document say after I explained them to him. I would not complete the notary if his answers are not coherent.

Keri c

22 Aug 2016

I have been put in this situation and I will likely again soon. First: you really should know the person and family well enough. Second: I would read every single word of the document to them. Then ask them to summarize what it is they are signing in their own words. I might even ask questions about the contents. Third: if I felt at any time the family would cause ill intent, I would likely not notarize in conjunction of using their state of mind and cloudiness as my reasoning. It's not just Alzheimer's, it's stroke patients too that could not have full faculties. Ps - I don't typically notarize anything for the public. Just work and friends.

Don Wilkins

22 Aug 2016

This happened to my mother. The attorney dismissed us and spoke to her alone. Once he was convinced of her competency, he notarized the documents. I fully agree with this, because I knew that she was alert and knowledgeable at times, and we only needed one of those times to do this. I can understand the father's confusion about unfamiliar documents, but a careful review of them with him, with lots of feedback, coupled with a conviction that he understands what is happening and what he is committing to with his signature, I would notarize. If any of this falls flat, I would decline. Tis must be done alone with the signer to avoid unwanted influences. I agree that the notary must listen to his gut. Any notarization that one must be talked into (including by oneself) must be declined.

Keri c

22 Aug 2016

I have been put in this situation and I will likely again soon. First: you really should know the person and family well enough. Second: I would read every single word of the document to them. Then ask them to summarize what it is they are signing in their own words. I might even ask questions about the contents. Third: if I felt at any time the family would cause ill intent, I would likely not notarize in conjunction of using their state of mind and cloudiness as my reasoning. It's not just Alzheimer's, it's stroke patients too that could not have full faculties. Ps - I don't typically notarize anything for the public. Just work and friends.

Lorraine Martinez

22 Aug 2016

I would proceed but on a different day and time, preferably early in the day. My family has a history of Alzheimer's, and my dad is in his early stages. He tends to sun down, meaning the later in the day, the more lost he feels. Early in the day, he is alert and remembers practically everything, even from the day before. Since I have "practice" in this area, I would change the date and time. Also, watch the family interact amongst themselves. The signer can sometimes be confused because you are a stranger to them. Watching this interaction helps you gauge the mental capacity of the signer as the family members can help bring them back to focus. Dress down. I know it's unprofessional, but a professional look can sometimes be intimidating and can trigger a mental shutdown. Looking more like an equal is comforting, especially when going through hard times like a recent diagnosis of eventual memory loss.


23 Aug 2016

When my father was in early stages of Alzheimer's, he had occasional bouts of confusion, but he could still preach and handle business. As the disease progressed, he was usually quite clear in the morning, but as the day moved toward late afternoon, the confusion increased. As some have mentioned, people with early to moderated Alzheimer's can bluff their way through things, and he got quite good at that so that many of his friends didn't realize he had Alzheimer's until much later. He had his Power of Attorney notarized in the morning while he was quite capable of making decisions.I was there with him and my mother and knew that he knew what he was doing. I did notarize a Power of Attorney for the father of a friend in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Again it was in the morning, and after asking him questions, it was clear he knew what he was doing. He wanted to make sure that his daughter could handle things for him as the disease progressed. He had made the decision to check himself in to the Veteran's Home because he knew what was coming down the line and he wanted his daughters to be able to take care of decisions for him when he got where he couldn't. He knew his birth date, the day, month and year, who the president was, etc. I was very careful to make sure he could answer questions on a number of subjects because having dealt with my dad throughout his Alzheimer's, I was aware of their ability to bluff their way through things and cover their confusion. To me, it is a case by case situation, but if I had even the slightest hint the person didn't know what they were signing or doing and couldn't answer some basic questions, I would refuse or ask them to return in the morning when thinking is usually so much clearer. It would also depend on his attitude and that of the daughter or son. If he showed any fear or acted like he was being forced into signing or if the son or daughter showed any signs that they may be forcing him into something against his will, then I would refuse or tell them I needed a note from the doctor stating he was capable of making decisions. People with Alzheimer's can be bullied by a family member or caregiver, so that's another thing we need to look for.

Gene Kauffman

23 Aug 2016

No I would have my friend do a power of attorney then notarized both documents with father signing as well


24 Aug 2016

I would ask the family to supply a letter from the physician stating that the person that's going to be signing is in early stages of Alzheimers however they are still competent enough to make sound and reasonable decisions. I would make my appointment first thing in the morning. I would also verify with the signor to make sure that they are sure of the document they are signing and the effects of the document. If they are able to do those things on their own then I would go ahead and notarize if they are not able to explain to me about the document without the assistance of someone else then I would not notarize.

Jhujar Singh

25 Aug 2016

The fundamental concern of a notary is to determine the awareness of the subject. You may address this basic fact whatever way you think appropriate. I shall be helpful and try my best to determine this fact. If I am satisfied I shall proceed otherwise will decline.

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