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Handling tricky ID situations when notarizing at work

A Notary looking at documents with a concerning face

Updated 11-27-23. Identifying a signer is the most important part of your duties. But can you rely on personal knowledge to identify a co-worker you’ve known for six weeks? How often do you need to ask for ID from a supervisor, co-worker or customer? Here are helpful guidelines for navigating tricky ID situations in the office.

Do you always need to ask for ID?

If you’ve worked with a coworker or supervisor long enough, or if you’ve notarized their signatures in the past, do you still have to ask them for proof of identity? The answer depends on the ID rules for your state:

  • If you’re commissioned in a state that allows you to identify signers through personal knowledge, you don’t have to ask coworkers for identification documents as long as you’ve known and interacted with them long enough to be confident of their identity.
  • If you’re a California Notary, regardless of how well you know the signer, they must present state-authorized identification documents or use credible identifying witnesses — who must present state-authorized ID. Also, any credible identifying witness in California used for notarization must present ID to the Notary from the statutory list of identification documents in state law. 

How personal does ‘Personal Knowledge’ have to be?

So if you want to use personal knowledge to identify a coworker during a notarization, how well do you have to know them? Unfortunately, definitions of personal knowledge in the law often require you to make a judgment call on how well you have to know an individual for them to qualify.

For example, Florida defines personal knowledge as “… having an acquaintance, derived from association with the individual, which establishes the individual’s identity with at least a reasonable certainty.” Other states, such as Texas, permit Notaries to use personal knowledge to identify a signer but do not provide guidelines for doing so in state laws. In states where definitions don’t tell a Notary exactly what to do, you must often use your own discretion to decide. 

Obviously, personal knowledge should not be used for a signer you met for the first time only a few hours or days ago. This leaves a lot of gray areas, however. What about a coworker who you don’t speak with often, but who you see regularly at your office? Or someone you’ve worked with closely, but who was only hired a few weeks ago?

Here are some questions to help you determine if you can notarize for a coworker using personal knowledge:

  • Have you met them face-to-face before?
  • Have you interacted with them more than once?
  • Do you know them well enough to know what duties they perform at your workplace?
  • Have you seen and interacted with them enough that you feel confident in their identity?
  • Have you interacted with them around other coworkers who know them to be the individual they claim to be?

If the answer to any of the above is no, then you may want to reconsider identifying the signer through personal knowledge.

If you are not certain you know someone well enough to rely on your personal knowledge, be safe and ask them for an ID instead. You won’t get into trouble for erring on the side of caution. However, you could easily get into trouble if you say you know someone you barely know and it turns out they weren’t that person.

What about important clients?

While it’s important to treat clients well, breaking the law — including Notary laws — for them is a big no-no. Unfortunately, sometimes well-intentioned supervisors ask Notaries to avoid asking for ID when notarizing a client’s signature. Maybe the boss doesn’t want to embarrass the client or mistakenly believes that you don’t need proof of identity they don’t think is necessary.

But don’t break Notary rules for a boss or client. Doing so puts your commission in jeopardy and could result in lawsuits against you, your employer or even the client if there are problems with the document later.

No matter the signer’s relationship to an employer, you must always identify them according to the rules of your state.

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

Related Articles:

Notarizing on the job: What you and your boss need to know

Quiz: Sorry, no can do!

Additional Resources:

The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Wendy Hunter

23 Jan 2017

When I first became a notary for our office I was properly asking for ID and making sure the signer was present. Because I had notarized the signature of a known vendor often, one day my boss left documents on my desk for notarization without signers present. I let them know immediately that I would be unable to proceed without the signers present in my office. I'm sharing my story because if you NEVER break the rule, they will never expect you to break the rule! Not that it wasn't an uncomfortable situation, but in the end my boss respected the stand I took and knows I will treat other sensitive issues with the same severity.

Keri c

26 Jan 2017

I'm In CA . I know about the laws in my state but I'm not going to ask my many supervisors 100x for their ID. When theirs expires, I get their new expiration date. I've been there for 13 years. Nothing is ever recorded by a governmental agency on my documents. So I have almost a full book and about four signers. Sometimes judgement comes to play?

National Notary Association

26 Jan 2017

Hello Keri. Legislation enacted in 2008 and 2009 prohibits California Notaries from relying on personal knowledge to identify signers. Every signer is required to present appropriate ID or be identified by credible witnesses for a notarization, as specified under statute (CC 1185[b]). GC 8206[a][2][D] also requires CA Notaries to record in their journal entry the type of ID used, the ID serial number, and the date of issue or expiration for each notarization. Failing to comply with state Notary laws could result in you having your commission suspended or revoked along with possible criminal charges or liability if a signer suffers harm as a result.

Keri c

26 Jan 2017

Replying: I have confirmed identities for everyone I notarized for. They were who they were yesterday as they are who they are today and who they were 13 years ago when I met them. Their ID's yesterday won't change who they are today unless they had an official name change with sex change. I know when people move, so addresses are up to date as well. I know when ID's expire and update accordingly.

Verne Gordon

26 Jun 2017

For us California Notaries, we are not allowed to use 'personal knowledge', but must have that person appear with proper id each time I notarize a document. I previously worked in a company where I notarized many documents over the course of a few years. Each time I did the notarization, I asked for id. Some folks who I did repeated business with initially asked why, but when I explained the basic law, they were very patient. It's better to do it right all of the time; there's no room for errors. Case in point: I was asked to do notarization for a client that I had previously notarized some documents. This time, she asked me to notarize her husband's signature on an acknowledgement. Unfortunately, he was not there. I explained that her husband would need to meet with me to acknowledge the signature and be identified; when he came, I would be happy to come back at no extra charge and notarize his signature. She was mad, but I would not let her try and force me into making a mistake.

Annette W

22 Jan 2018

I am a new Notary and have ALREADY seen people who Break the Law when Notarizing and Don't Care! It's really Sad that in Every Profession you have people who are Dishonest and Break Rules and Laws! Payday Will Come!!


23 Jan 2018

Does the state send "Secret Shoppers" to see if you do the correct document verification? I am in CA and have see short cuts already. Remember what an oath means!

Marylou Stewart

23 Jan 2018

Better to be known as a stickler for the Law than to allow friends or colleagues to coerce you. In court, it is your good name on the line!

Kate Sanborn

28 Jan 2019

Regarding Keri's reply (to your reply) - could you please clarify. If I notarized a document for my boss last week using his California Drivers License as proof of ID, do I need to ask for the ID again this week? Even though I have the DL # and expiration date in my book from last week's notarization? I would, of course, still ensure he appeared before me and signed my journal at the time of notarization.

National Notary Association

29 Jan 2019

Hello. Yes, you do need to request proof of identity for your boss that meets the requirements of California Civil Code section 1185(b)(3) and (4) each time he requests a notarization. California does not permit Notaries to rely on personal knowledge of a signer as proof of identity, even if the signer has previously appeared before you for a notarization.


28 Jan 2019

Thanks for the knowledge to better understand my Notary rules


08 Feb 2021

Keri, you should be asking those signers for their ID every single time. Even if you have the same signers. I have to ask the same executives for their ID every time I notarize, even the CEO. It's the law! I've also had to refuse to notarize for an executive's wife who was not present. Even though he was not happy with me!


08 Feb 2021

What is the best way to sign for someone that cannot sign for themselves.

National Notary Association

09 Feb 2021

Hello. Please see these articles for more information:


14 Feb 2022

Keri is playing with fire. If for any reason, there ended up being an issue, and you ended up in court - you could not under oath, say that you properly id the individual according to CA law. I have the same situation where I work, and I will not complete the notary without ID. I was asked why, and explained, I would not want to go to court and lie or be neglectful in my failure to follow the law.

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