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A Guide To Notarizing For Physically Impaired Signers

Notarizing for signers who are physically impaired

Updated 8-21-18. If you're a Notary who encounters someone unable to write their name due to a physical condition, don't panic. Many states provide alternatives for notarizing for an impaired signer.

Let's take a look at some options below.

Powers Of Attorney And Representative Signers

In some situations, another person may be given power of attorney to sign documents on behalf of the disabled individual. This other person is known as a "representative signer" or "attorney in fact" (though the representative does not necessarily have to be an actual lawyer).

In these cases, the notarization would be performed normally, but you are notarizing the signature of the representative signer. They would present proof of identity, and their name would be entered in the Notary certificate. However, be aware that in most cases a representative signer can’t swear an oath or affirmation in the name of the disabled individual.

Some states, such as Colorado and Nevada, require Notaries to use special certificate wording when notarizing for a representative signer. Oregon, Hawaii, Montana and Utah require the representative signer to show the Notary proof that they have the authority to sign on behalf of the person in question.

Signature By Mark

If the signer is alert, coherent and appears willing to sign — but can’t write a full signature due to an injury or other physical impairment — the signer can make an 'X' or similar mark unassisted in lieu of a signature. This is called "signature by mark," which many states permit. For a signature by mark, the signer does not have to write out a full name. Instead, they make an 'X' or similar mark in front of witnesses, which can then be notarized.

You can notarize a signature by mark, however, there will need to be witnesses to the signature. Depending on the state, you may need one or two witnesses. If the signer wishes to use a signature by mark, make sure to follow your state’s requirements about the procedures. For example, California requires two witnesses be present if a signer wishes to make a signature by mark. In California, the witnesses to a signature by mark do not need to present identification for themselves unless they are also serving as credible identifying witnesses vouching for the signer's identity. 

When using signature by mark, the signer must be able to make the mark on their own. Neither you nor a third party may physically hold or guide the signer’s hand to help them make a signature. If someone asks you or another person to do this, you must tell them no.

Let Someone Else Sign For The Impaired Person

If the customer is completely unable to write or make a mark, some states permit the Notary or another individual present to sign the document as directed by the customer. This is sometimes called "signature by proxy." For example, if a person in Florida who is physically unable to sign wants the Notary to sign on their behalf, the signing must take place in the disabled person's presence, with two other witnesses present who have no interest in the document being notarized. Texas also allows a Notary to sign on a disabled person’s behalf, but only requires one disinterested witness to be present.

Montana does not allow a Notary to sign on behalf of a disabled person, but a disinterested third party may sign by proxy if the instruction is given in person by the disabled individual and in the presence of the Notary.

If you’re not certain how to proceed, contact your state Notary regulating agency or the NNA Hotline for help.

If There Are No Options Available, Don't Proceed

If the requirements for alternative methods of signing cannot be met, then do not proceed with the notarization. The customer will need to contact an attorney or other agency qualified to provide legal advice on acceptable alternatives to signing the document.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

Notary Essentials

8 Comments

Add your comment

Joseph Berning

26 Sep 2016

Not sure why a comment is necessary?

National Notary Association

26 Sep 2016

Hello Joseph. We do not require comments for Bulletin articles. If you are having any problems viewing an article, please email us at social@nationalnotary.org with a description of the problem and the type of device you are using, and we'll see if we can help you resolve the issue. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Maria sarraff

27 Sep 2016

In lieu of a signature a fingerprint is also allowed

Anita M Ferguson

24 Jan 2017

If ID's are still a concern and you are at their home they should have some ORIGINAL medical record to show the disability. If not walk away. Just because their is a cast does not mean there was an injury. If there was an actual physical impairment then yest the above Mark X or thumbprint may be acceptable if approved in your area.

Janelle Jefferson

07 May 2018

Find out if there is a better time of the day for a shaky signer, maybe early in the morning or right after exercise or a meal.

Jon Parker

08 May 2018

I had a similar situation where one of the borrowers had Parkinson's Disease. Though the co-borrower had POA for the primary, the lender demanded the primary sign where required in the loan package. 109 out of 290 pages and two hour and a half later I was shaking my head.

Roxana

25 Jun 2018

Not a comment, but a question! A dementia person paperwork includes doctors letter stating patient unable, I have two credible witnesses and presented acknowledgement, names of CW on all paperwork including deed, but deed not signed by C Witnesses. Does the deed need to be sign by them in lieu of the dementia person? even thought their names are in all paperwork and on deed? I so much appreciate your input. Roxana

National Notary Association

27 Jun 2018

Hello. 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.

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