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Everything A California Notary Should Know About Thumbprints

New-CA-thumbprint-resized.jpgUpdated 5-29-19. California has the most extensive and sweeping Notary requirements for recording signers’ thumbprints. But not all notarizations require you to take a thumbprint. In fact, California Notaries are expected to exercise judgment when it comes to meeting those requirements.

Here’s what you need to know:

What The State Requires

California Notaries are required to record the signer’s right thumbprint in their Notary journals whenever they notarize any of the following documents:

  • A power of attorney
  • Deed
  • Quitclaim deed
  • Deed of trust
  • Any other document affecting real property

A journal thumbprint is not required for deeds of reconveyance and trustee’s deeds resulting from a decree of foreclosure or a non-judicial foreclosure. Most of the documents are simple and straightforward. The challenge comes with determining other documents affecting real estate.

How To Decide What Affects Real Property

The law in this respect is quite broad, and even a partial list of documents that would require thumbprints runs for pages. Here are a few examples:

  • Affidavit of Continuous Marriage
  • Homestead Declaration
  • Memorandum of Option
  • Notice of Non-Responsibility
  • Name Affidavit

These are just a few that could be part of loan packages, real estate transactions or otherwise involve real estate. Because so many different types of documents potentially involve real estate, there are a number of things to keep in mind when deciding if a thumbprint is required.

You should not read the entire document. Instead, when you are going through your normal process of checking the document during a notarization for such things as the title, blank spaces, certificate wording, etc., look for signs that it relates to real estate. These could include:

  • An assessor’s parcel number;
  • A legal property description;
  • A space in the margin reserved for a recorder’s use; or
  • A cover sheet that includes information for a recorder.

Estate-planning documents, such as wills, codicils and trusts, also could potentially involve real estate. If you are unsure whether a document involves real estate, the standard of professional practice is to collect the thumbprint. It is better to err on the side of caution. Remember, collecting the thumbprint is to protect against fraud. In addition, if the Secretary of State ever looks at your journal, you’ll want to have thumbprints for those entries that require them.

If The Signer Refuses To Leave A Thumbprint

It is possible that a signer could insist that the document does not involve real estate and refuse to leave their thumbprint. This is a judgment call. If you are satisfied with the signer’s explanation, you can opt not to collect their thumbprint. Just make sure to note the signer’s explanation in your journal entry.

If the signer’s explanation does not satisfy you, you should refuse to notarize the document.

A signer may object to leaving their thumbprint for privacy reasons. You can explain that your journal is locked in a secure location when not in use, and you maintain strict control over it. Also remind them that their entry can only be accessed by others under limited circumstances:

  • Seizure of the journal by law enforcement;
  • A court subpoena or written request by the Secretary of State to provide certified copies of journal entries; or
  • A specific, written request from a member of the public to provide a copy of a journal entry.

Thumbprint Recording Tips

When it comes to collecting the thumbprint, state law stipulates the right thumb. If there is a reason you cannot use the right thumbprint, the left thumbprint is the next option. After that, you may use any available finger. And note this in the journal. If the signer is physically unable to leave a thumbprint or a fingerprint, then note the reason in the journal entry.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Always have a back-up thumbprint pad, and make sure to keep the pads sealed when not in use so they don’t dry out.
  • Keep a container of wet wipes handy.
  • Have the signer press down gently so the impression does not smudge.
  • If the thumbprint is smudged, have the signer make another impression.
  • Make sure you have a journal where the space for the thumbprint is along the right margin so it is easy to make the impression.

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

Professional Inkless Thumbprinter

14 Comments

Add your comment

Andy Cliff

26 Jun 2017

Is there any guidance for how thumbprint collection practices change in an electronic notarization?

Lori Holmes

26 Jun 2017

I obtain a thumbprint for all documents. The reason for this is I have had to testify in court, and no one can invalidate the thumb print.

Melanie

26 Jun 2017

In California, can I obtain a thumbprint for all notarizations if the signers are willing?

National Notary Association

29 Jun 2017

Hello. Yes, you may ask for a thumbprint for all notarizations if you wish to. However, please remember that a journal thumbprint is only required by state law for a notarization involving a power of attorney, deed, quitclaim deed, deed of trust or other document affecting real property. If the notarization does not involve one of these documents, the signer is not required to provide a thumbprint and has the right to refuse to do so.

Jack Crawford

26 Jun 2017

I get a thumbprint for every entry. I'm halfway through my 37th journal in 13 years and it has never been an issue.

jclass@comresearch.org

30 May 2018

Is a thumbprint required for an affidavit of identity on a Fictitious Business Name statement?

National Notary Association

30 May 2018

Hello. California Notaries are required to obtain a signer's thumbprint for their journals when notarizing the following documents: 1. A power of attorney 2. Deed 3. Quitclaim deed 4. Deed of trust 5. Any other document affecting real property

frntncntr

05 Dec 2018

What if notaries fail to obtain thumbprints for mortgage deeds? Many of these documents are notarized without the presence of the party.

Jennifer

06 Apr 2019

Do you need to be certified as a signing agent not just a normal notary to sign a homestead declaration?

National Notary Association

08 Apr 2019

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.

Julia

01 May 2019

My client had to sign 7 slots and give 3 thumbprints. He gave all 3 thumbprint and 6 signatures but didn't sign for the Grant Deed by accident- do I need to contact him and get a signature even if I have 6 others and a thumbprint for the Grant Deed?

National Notary Association

02 May 2019

Hi Julia. Were you performing these notarizations as a Notary Signing Agent as part of a loan signing assignment? If so, you should contact the loan officer, lender or title company to request instructions from them.

Jane

08 May 2019

I am a new Notary, I assume I should get the thumbprint and signature in my book before I officially stamp and notarize the document?

National Notary Association

08 May 2019

Hi Jane. We always recommend completing any required journal entry information first, to ensure that all necessary information is recorded before the signer leaves.

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