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What Would You Do Answers: The Case Of The Hard-Drinking Signer

What Would You Do Answers For The Case Of The Drunk Signer

Last week, we shared a situation in which a Notary encountered a signer drinking alcohol and showing signs of intoxication. While the signer appeared lucid and coherent at first, as the notarization progressed, the signer started to slur his speech and appeared disoriented.

What You Said

We asked our Notary community what you would do in this situation, and you offered many interesting responses. A number of readers said they’ve had similar experiences.

“I’ve had this situation happen several times,” said Joanne Stevens. “If alcohol is present at the signing, I ask that it be put away until we are done. If the signer is noticeably intoxicated, I postpone the signing for another time or day.”

Virginia Wells also said she would postpone the notarization for another time when the signer has sobered up. “I’d let him know that I’m uncomfortable continuing with the notarization, because I don’t believe he is clear on what he’s about to do.”

However, David Gordon said he would complete the notarization, provided the signer seemed aware and alert during the key stages. “If the signer had already sworn to or acknowledged the documents, and signed the documents while still lucid and coherent, then it seems the process should be completed,” he said. “If the problematic behavior started before some documents had been sworn to, acknowledged or signed, then those documents should not be completed. In both cases, the signer’s behavior should be noted in the journal.”

Ermalinda Owens said she would stop the notarization. “This is not only for the legality of the notarization, but for my own physical safety,” Owens said.

James Martin said that when he previously encountered a signer who was extremely intoxicated, he pretended to go through the motions of completing the notarization for the signer and then left and notified the title company what had happened. Martin returned a few days later to notarize a new set of documents for the now-sober signer. “He was very apologetic, and had no clue or recollection of the previous signing. His family had told him about his actions, so he was quite humble,” Martin said.

NNA Recommendations

As several readers pointed out, alcohol can affect a signer’s alertness and memory. An intoxicated signer is potentially vulnerable to fraud and exploitation by others due to impaired judgment. Your state may have a law on the matter. Florida law, for example, prohibits a Notary from notarizing a signature if it appears that the person is mentally incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the document at the time of notarization. Georgia law states a Notary is not obligated to notarize if the signer is incapable of knowing the consequences document requiring notarization.

In his case, Gordon perceptively points out the signer appeared lucid “at the time of notarization.” Since alcohol affects people differently, it’s hard to know if you’ll be able to complete the notarization process, let alone be physically safe in doing so — as Owens points out — if the signer keeps drinking. Because of this, if you encounter a signer who shows signs of intoxication during a notarization, the NNA recommends halting the notarization and rescheduling for a time when the signer is not under the influence of alcohol.

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


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