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What Would You Do Answers: The case of the confused father

What would you do answers: Father with Alzheimer's

Last week, we shared a situation in which a friend asks you to notarize her father’s signature — but the signer has early stage Alzheimer’s. The father appears confused and tired during the notarization, but insists he’s fine and can proceed. We asked our Notary community what you would do in this situation, and here are some of the responses we received.

Your answers

Several Notaries said that the signer’s confusion about the documents is a warning sign not to proceed. Some, like Annette Newcomb, said they would offer instead to reschedule and return at a time when the father was more rested and alert. “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,” Newcomb said.

Others said they would engage the father in further conversation to see if he seemed alert and aware about other matters. “I would begin a normal conversation about something else — weather, family, sports — and gauge his ability to sign. If he’s good, I would have him sign,” said Don Blose. 

However, Constance Srinivasan said that if the father still seemed confused after further conversation, she would halt the notarization. “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,” she said.

MaryAnn Guiliano said she would refuse the notarization out of concern that the signer’s condition might lead to the notarization being questioned in court later. “I am not comfortable notarizing someone’s signature knowing that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early stages,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my Notary license.”

NNA recommendations

Dealing with a signer with Alzheimer’s or other medical conditions that potentially affect mental capacity can be very challenging. As some of our readers pointed out, Alzheimer’s symptoms are not always clear-cut or consistent. In the early stages of the disease, some people remain lucid with only occasional bouts of confusion or disorientation. Others may be alert and aware early in the day, but may become more disoriented later in the afternoon or evening.

If you are asked to notarize for a signer that you know is suffering from Alzheimer’s, the first thing to do is follow any requirements of your state. For example, Oregon authorizes its Notaries to stop a notarization if the Notary isn’t satisfied that the signer is fully competent. Florida prohibits a Notary from notarizing a signature if it appears a person is mentally incapable or does not appear to understand the document.

However, not every state provides clear-cut rules for dealing with a confused or mentally incapable signer. Since most Notaries aren’t physicians or attorneys, in these cases the Notary must make a commonsense decision whether the signer seems fit to proceed or not.

The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility provides some suggestions under Guiding Principle III-C-1:

“The Notary shall not notarize for any person if the Notary has a reasonable belief that can be articulated that the person at the moment is not aware of the significance of the transaction requiring a notarial act.”

So if something about a signer’s condition seems off during a notarization, ask yourself to state clearly what’s of concern to you. For example, “The signer seems dazed and isn’t speaking clearly to me,” or “The signer says they’re confused and doesn’t understand what they’re signing.” The Code states that you must have a reasonable belief about what you witness. If you can clearly tell someone else what’s bothering you, then halt the notarization.

As several of our readers suggested, you may instead offer to reschedule the notarization for a time when the signer may be more aware and alert. Don’t forget to record any important details about the notarization or the signer’s condition in your journal, even if you don’t complete the notarization.That way, you have a record if you are asked about the situation at a later date.

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

Related Articles:

What Would You Do Answers: When a signer says she doesn’t want to sign

A Notary’s role in preventing elder financial exploitation

Notary Basics: Determining a signer’s awareness

Additional Resources:

NNA Webinars: Commonly Asked Questions

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

David Nuby

29 Aug 2016

Before I Notirize a document, I always ask the signer to explain to me what they want me to Notirize. I then read the document. If I am satisfied with the explanation, and what l read, and I am satisfied that the person has a clear mind l will be comfortable with Notirizeing the document. However, if I am told by the person with the signer, that the signer has any stage of the disease, l will not Notirize the doc.


29 Aug 2016

If i am made aware that a signer has any form of mental illness I will refuse the notarization entirely and recommend that they contact an attorney. There is no way my notarization would hold up legally if challenged. I am not an attorney or doctor (both of which are paid far more than I as a notary) and should not try to gauge if my signer is competent.

Diana Bozarth

14 Sep 2016

I agree with Lawrence, You could have their Doctor/Attorney present during the signing.

Debby Duke

09 Jul 2019

I agree that Alzheimer's presents a very challenging situation. My father has Alzheimer's and in the early stages was insistent that nothing was wrong. However, he could not always remember who I was. He was a very good guesser, and was able to fool folks for a long time. If you are dealing with someone with Alzheimer's, in the early stages, you are best advised to make your appointment early in the day as the disease often has a "Sundowner's Effect" in which the symptoms are more pronounced in the later day. Have the signer tell you what the document is all about, and how they feel about the document. If you are uncomfortable, you should walk away. Sometimes it is better to have a judge make some decisions on behalf of the signer, it protects their family in the long run from problems.

colleen stringfellow

07 Jan 2024

In cases like this scenario, couldn't the Notary just refuse altogether? First of all, my concern would be that the requestor is "a friend", second the friend's father has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. For these reasons, I would opt out and refer my "friend and her father" to seek another Notary. Would I be wrong to do this? Just my thoughts

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