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Questions To Ask When Notarizing Unusual Government Forms

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Updated 11-14-18. No one likes to deal with government red tape. For Notaries, red tape usually means confusing or inappropriate requests to notarize goverment forms. It might be instructions on the form to perform an unauthorized act, stamp a document without room for the seal, place half a seal impression on a photo or complete notarial wording that doesn’t comply with the law. If you encounter one of these tricky forms, here’s what you need to ask before proceeding.

1. Am I Authorized To Perform The Notarization On The Document?
 

The first and most important question you need to ask is whether the laws of your state or jurisdiction permit you to perform the act requested on the form. In most cases, you’ll be able to do so because the documents simply ask for a straightforward acknowledgment or jurat. But some cases are less clear-cut and may include confusing instructions, like the Form I-9 used to verify employee eligibility to work in the U.S.

The I-9 Form doesn’t require notarization, but the current Handbook for Employers states that a Notary Public can help a new employee fill out the form and sign Section 2 as an “authorized representative” on the new employee’s behalf. Some states provide additional instructions to Notaries regarding I-9s. In Texas, the Secretary of State's office instructs Notaries not to certify or affix their seals to an I-9 Form, but may assist their business in filling out the form in a non-Notary capacity. California officials have stated that Notaries in the Golden State may not complete an I-9 Form in any capacity unless the Notary is a registered and bonded immigration consultant. Adding to the confusion, many companies have instructed Notaries to write “Notary Public” as their title underneath their signature or worse, notarize their own signature on the form, which is not permitted in any state.

There are cases when a state Notary regulating official provides instructions for notarizing uncommon documents that seem to contradict usual practices. For example, the California Secretary of State’s 2014 newsletter included a message that California Notaries were permitted to countersign deer and bear tags for hunters. The Secretary’s office said Notaries don’t have to complete a notarial certificate and may not affix their seals on the tag or charge a fee for the notarization. They must countersign the tag, however, and record the act in their journals.

2. Is There Room For My Notary Seal?
 

Some government documents may ask for a standard acknowledgment or jurat, but may have little or no room to affix a seal impression.

We posted a Hotline Tip about one such form, the “TSP-70,” which is used when a former federal employee wishes to withdraw money from a government-provided savings account. Form TSP-70 tells the Notary, “No other acknowledgement is acceptable” but the one on the document, but then provides virtually no space for the seal. In such cases, the NNA recommends that Notaries with rectangular seals affix the seal vertically in the left-hand margin where there may be space without placing it over the text in the document. Notaries with circular seals may be out of luck if their state’s law prohibits the seal from being placed over any text or signatures on the document. If that’s you, you’ll have to refuse to perform the notarization.

3. Can I Complete The Notarial Certificate Wording Provided?
 

Florida Notaries should refuse to notarize Form TSP-70 for another reason. Florida law requires a notarial certificate to contain no fewer than nine different elements (see F.S. 117.05[4]). Since Form TSP-70 doesn’t include all nine and doesn’t allow a Florida Notary to use any other form, it’s a deal breaker.

4. What Else Can I Do If The Law Does Not Allow Me To Notarize?
 

If a government agency or form’s instructions for the notarization conflict with your state’s law, ask the receiving agency if it will accept an alternative. For example, this medical license form from the state of Ohio appears to require a Notary to affix the seal impression over a color photograph attached to the document. Fortunately, some state forms no longer require this. But for those that still do, placing the seal over the photograph can be problematic.

The NNA suggests that Notaries presented with these documents try one of these alternative approaches: First, find another place near the Notary’s signature to affix a legible seal impression. Second, place a partial seal impression over the attached photo as requested. If this is not possible, ask the receiving agency if it will accept an attached and stapled certificate form with room for a clear and legible Notary seal.

If You’re Still Unsure, Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
 

If you’re still not sure if you can perform an unusual notarization on a government form, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance. The NNA’s Hotline counselors or your state Notary agency can provide additional information and guidance to help you follow the law and avoid improper notarizations.

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

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3 Comments

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Jodie

21 Nov 2016

I have notarized several of the TSP-70 forms. I agree, there is not really enough room for a notary seal, especially the round ones (like the one I used to have when I first became a notary). However, the new rectangular stamp I bought two years ago with my renewal is really skinny and it fit on that form with amazing perfection. Although I tend to avoid the margins, I do think the above suggestion to stamp on the left hand margin is a good alternative. This is maybe something I'll even keep in mind next time I come across one of these, as it does take perfect positioning on my part to affix even my skinny rectangle seal.

Joe Luther Hampton

27 Nov 2018

Would it be appropriate to place the seal on the backside of a picture document.

National Notary Association

27 Nov 2018

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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