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10 Steps Notaries Can Take To Avoid Being Sued

Updated-lawsuit-resized.jpgUpdated 6-28-22. Notaries can be sued for any number of reasons. These 10 steps can help you prevent a lawsuit from being filed against you. Following Notary laws is key.

1. Never Notarize for a Signer Who Isn’t Present

The most common reason Notaries are sued and have their commissions revoked or suspended is failing to require a signer’s personal appearance. Be sure to always abide by your state’s personal appearance requirements, however it defines them. And never skip the requirement “as a favor” or “just this once.” If you do, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

2. Don’t Notarize Incomplete Documents

A document needs to be completed prior to notarization. If you notarize an incomplete document — for example, a loan document with the interest rates or terms left blank — there is a risk those blanks could be filled in with fraudulent information. By making sure all blanks are filled in at the time you notarize, you protect both the signer and the transaction from potential fraud, and reduce your risk of being sued.

3. Always Identify Your Signers

Identifying your signers in compliance with your state’s Notary laws is crucial. Many lawsuits against Notaries are filed because the Notary carelessly failed to request proper ID which allowed a signer to commit fraud. Always follow your state’s laws to ensure a signer’s identity is properly vetted.

4. Verify Your Signer’s Willingness and Awareness

One of your key responsibilities is to make sure your signer is signing the document willingly and understands what they are signing. Always ask your signer a few simple questions. If the signer appears reluctant to sign, disoriented — or another person appears to be trying to pressure the signer — do not proceed with the notarization. This will protect all parties to the document, including you, from allegations of duress.

5. Keep a Journal Record of Your Notarizations

A well-kept journal of your notarial acts is one of the best defenses you can have against lawsuits. A legible, complete journal entry provides evidence to help determine what happened if a notarization is disputed, and can also help show you followed appropriate steps when notarizing. If your state sets rules for what information must be recorded in a journal entry, be sure to follow them. Incomplete and sloppy journal entries are red flags that can call into question your Notary practices.

6. Stay Impartial and Don’t Offer Advice

Never notarize your own signature or a document in which you are personally named because a Notary’s impartiality can be questioned in these circumstances. If you will receive a direct benefit, fee, commission or advantage other than the fee allowed by state law, you also should not notarize. Some states also prohibit Notaries from notarizing for close family members. Even if not specifically prohibited by law, it’s a good idea to avoid notarizing for close family members to make sure your impartiality is never questioned. Also, never give advice about the contents of the document or details of the transaction. Doing so can lead to your being sued or facing other penalties for the unauthorized practice of law. If a client asks you for advice about the legality of a document or how to complete it, tell the signer that you are prohibited by law from giving unauthorized legal advice.

7. Complete the Notary Certificate Correctly

Careless mistakes with Notary certificates, such as forgetting to fill in a certificate or writing the wrong information, are another common reason Notaries get sued. The public relies upon the facts attested in every certificate of acknowledgment or jurat you sign. Make sure you enter the correct county and state, name of the signer, and date of notarization. Also, be sure your seal is legibly affixed.

8. Never Notarize After Your Commission Expires

If your commission expires and you fail to realize it, any document you notarize after the expiration date could be questioned. If your commission expires and there’s a delay in the renewal process, do not notarize until you have your new commission in hand.

9. Never Let Anyone Else Use Your Notary Seal

If someone else gets access to your seal, they can use your Notary seal to commit fraud and do significant harm to others — and you could be held responsible. Always store your seal in a locked, secured area when not in use, and never let anyone else borrow it or take it. The seal has your name on it, and you are the only one allowed to use it.

10. Make Sure You Have Errors and Omissions Insurance

Even if your state requires you to obtain a surety bond, the bond isn’t an insurance policy and doesn’t protect you from financial liability or cover legal costs. A bond only protects your customers if they are financially damaged by your negligence. Also, you may be responsible for paying back any money the surety company pays out from the bond. An E&O insurance policy can help cover your risk of financial damages in the event you are sued. Some policies also cover legal fees such as attorney costs. Think of it like driving a car — safe drivers are mostly able to avoid accidents. However, sometimes good drivers get into accidents, and sometimes even the most diligent Notaries make mistakes.

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


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Add your comment

Elizabeth M.

03 Apr 2018

I am a NY Notary and will be moving to DE, do I renew my NY commission and apply for one in DE? Would I have to take an exam in DE? Can I hold a commission in both states?

National Notary Association

03 Apr 2018

Hello, 1. In order to maintain a NY Notary commission, you must either be a resident of New York or maintain a place of business in New York. If you will be doing neither of these after you move, you will need to resign your NY commission. 2. Delaware does not require applicants to take an exam. 3. You cannot hold commissions in both NY and DE if you do not meet the residency requirements for both states (see answer to Question 1 above).

Martha Chaney

13 May 2019

I am a Texas Notary . Can I do a Power of Attorney for someone? Or shall I tell them to download themselves?

National Notary Association

13 May 2019

Hello. A Texas Notary commission does not give you the authority to prepare legal documents on another person's behalf. Please see this article for more information:


06 Jan 2020

Can a notary tape or video tape a notary job? We have no protection as a notary as someone could say we said something we didn't. I would like to know if I can legally record or video tape my notary jobs that I do. I'm not asking if I can notarize someone who is on tape. I want to know if I can turn on my video camera or tape recorded to use during a signing. Thanks.

National Notary Association

07 Jan 2020

Hello. While some states that authorize remote notarizations do require an audiovisual record of remote online notarizations, audio or visual recording is not required for traditional pen-and-paper notarizations. If you are only performing traditional pen-and-paper notarizations, videotaping or recording the signer could be considered a potential breach of the signer's privacy.

Lewis Sanders

27 May 2020

My ex wife sold my property in Kansas and had the sale motorized can I press charges on notary and my ex wife

National Notary Association

29 May 2020

Hello. We are sorry, but those are legal questions that would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

Lena Leatherwood

01 Jun 2020

My daughter recently refinanced her home, the Loan signing agent had her press her thumb print one time.It is my understanding that each notarization should be recoreded In the Journal (California) and a thumb print placed. .In essence if you had 4 notarizations 4 thumbs prints are required by California Thank You

National Notary Association

02 Jun 2020

Hello. Each separate notarization performed by a California Notary requires a complete journal entry. If the notarizations are related to a power of attorney, deed, quitclaim deed, deed or trust or any other document involving real property, then the signer's thumbprint would be required for each journal entry related to those types of documents. The only exception in California is deeds of reconveyance and trustee’s deeds resulting from a decree of foreclosure or a non-judicial foreclosure. Please see here for more information:

roxanne sheffield

28 Jul 2020

Is it true in Flavor that 2 witnesses are always needed for the mortgage And may I use one of my relatives for that second witness?

National Notary Association

28 Jul 2020

Hello. You would need to contact a qualified attorney or qualified real estate professional to answer any questions about requirements for a mortgage.

Dan Downing

28 Jul 2020


12 Jul 2021

When I needed a notary for POA paperwork for my brother in law who was in a rehabilitation facility, I was given a list from the facility. When I contacted the notaries I was told they charged anywhere from $30. to $40. Just to go to the facility. In a North Carolina I thought notaries couldn’t charge for travel or mileage.

National Notary Association

19 Jul 2021

Hello. You are correct. North Carolina Notaries are not permitted to charge travel fees: “Notaries are not authorized to charge travel or mileage expenses to their clients” (NPG). Doing so could result in the Notary being disciplined by the division director for the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State Notary Public Section (18 NCAC 07B .0904).

Lynne M Betlem

13 Jul 2021

I wondered if anyone has had this issue. Last minute call that you have to bring a witness and your signing is 2 hours away. Would it be OK to facetime with someone introduce them to clients then when I get back home have them sign?

National Notary Association

19 Jul 2021

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.

Robert L Lockwood Jr

13 Jul 2021

Can I have a notary commission in a state I don't reside in? For example, I live in a small rural town in northern GA that is near the border of TN. There's not enough buisness where I live, but Im near Chattanoga.

National Notary Association

14 Jul 2021

Hello. To qualify for a Tennessee Notary commission, you would have to (a) be at least 18 years old, (b) be a resident of or maintain a principal place of business in a Tennessee county and (c) be a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident (TCA 8-16-101[a] and 8-18-101).

Carmen Melin

17 Aug 2021

Is there a statute of limitation to keep the journal entries? and when is filled out completely the notary keeps it or does it have to be turn in to a specific officer?

National Notary Association

17 Aug 2021

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

joy jones

21 Feb 2022

If Im completing a Loan Modification do i have to list every document they sign in my journal or just that it is a loan Modification documents from lender.

National Notary Association

28 Feb 2022

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

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