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What Would You Do: The case of the quarantined signer

What Would You Do: The Case Of The Quarantined Signer

The Notary Hotline receives hundreds of calls daily from Notaries nationwide who find themselves in challenging situations. To boost your knowledge of Notary standards of practice, we’ve created a series of scenarios based on actual situations and ask a simple question: What would you do?

This scenario is based on a real-life encounter in which a Notary is called to a hospital to notarize a power of attorney for a critically ill patient. When the Notary arrives, she discovers that the patient, a 48-year-old man, is quarantined in an isolation room because he is dying of a contagious disease.

The hospital staff says you are not allowed to enter the room, however, a nurse clad in protective clothing is on hand and can help facilitate the notarization. You also can see the patient through a window on the door, and his bed is about 20 feet from you. The patient also has his cell phone, so you can speak with him by phone.

What would you do?

This situation raises a number of issues and questions, which may vary depending on where you are commissioned:

  • How can you satisfy your state’s personal appearance requirement?
  • Can you properly verify the patient’s identity? While the nurse can hand you the man’s ID, can you adequately compare it to him? Some states, such as California and Florida, have very specific requirements and limitations for verifying a signer’s identity.
  • Some states, Florida among them, has specific provisions in its Notary laws and rules for accommodating signers with disabilities. But do they apply to this situation?
  • States that require Notaries to keep a journal, such as California and Pennsylvania, also have requirements about safeguarding your journal. If you live in one of these states, can you fulfill your obligations under the law and still accommodate the signer?

To participate in this week’s “What Would You Do?” scenario, share your answers in the comments section below. We may mention your response in next week’s Bulletin, when we offer the best possible answer(s) to this notarial challenge.

Related Articles:

What Would You Do Answers: The case of the absent signer

How do I handle a credible identifying witness?

Additional Resources:

Tips & Tutorials for Notaries

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Theresa Shannon

06 Nov 2017

Even in a "Gown up" Room I am often allowed to enter. I take only the essentials, my book, a pen, a clipboard, and my stamp ( using sanitizer on all prior to entry and upon departing).. I gown up and conduct a normal signing. Sometimes, if it seems prudent and accommodating I stand at the doorway view and speak to the person comparing them to their ID. Then I review the document and in Nevada if it is a Power of Attorney for Health Care or Power of Attorney for Finances the letter from the doctor stating they are capable of signing which is attached if they are residing in a Hospital or Assisted Care Facility. Then I watch the person sign as the loved one, nurse, social worker has them initial and sign appropriately and sign my book from the safe distance of say 3-6 feet in the doorway. I am in their presence- they have been determined to be capable of signing and I alleviate any touching so that I do not contaminate them and I do not contaminate others later by getting to close.

Chris Nwakobi

06 Nov 2017

If as presented, I could see the patient through the glass window - have the nurse bring him as close as possible, and observe him sign the POA and my journal(provided he has gloves on); I will complete the notarization.

Leslie Colburn

06 Nov 2017

I would feel comfortable if I had full- facial view through the glass and could communicate via cell phone. Regarding documents, I would question the nursing staff regarding the nature of the illness and mode of transmission. I would also question the staff regarding whether the document, after signing, could transmit the disease. I would then call my contact (whoever is employing me) and explain the situation and risks for subsequent handlers of the document and ask for further instructions. I'd be more concerned about disease transmission to me and the outside world through fomites ( touched objects). Since I would need to examine ID for authenticity, expiration, and signs of tampering, I'd have the nurse enclose the ID in a baggie thin enough for me to touch and feel the ID for signs of tampering (food storage weight rather than freezer weight). The durability of a driver license or other state ID would also allow for a thorough purel, alcohol or bleach disinfection The document itself is a bigger problem since the document will need to be held and signed by the patient. Depending upon the mode of transmission of the disease, I'd be more concerned about the document and those coming in contact with it AFTER signing. Again my consultation with my contracting company would be key.

Christine Wissbrun

06 Nov 2017

I would "suit up" in the appropriate protective clothing (since there are nursing staff going in - he's not in a plastic bubble) and go in with the nurse as an escort. I would have to speak to the patient directly to understand that he is in agreement and understands what he is signing. I believe the notary needs to have that communication directly with the signer. The Journal would absolutely need to be used (depending on the state of the commission and the act) because there could be an estate situation after the signer passes away.

Julie Brickley

06 Nov 2017

This is one of the most difficult type of scenarios for the Mobile/Hospital notary, as it pulls on our heart strings. We want to help, but may not be able to...and tempted to bend the rules, but are we sending far enough to break them. Unfortunately this is a case, for me, of "Lack of planning on their part, does not constitute a crisis on my part." I would refuse notarization, but would also refer them to a Remote Notary service. Knowing many notaries across the country, I know a fee in VA who would be able to handle that.

Ava Zinn

06 Nov 2017

I would put on gloves and a mask and ask the nurse to bring me identification that I can look at. Then I would talk to the patient on the phone, confirm the signing is his free act and deed as well as having a member of the medical staff personally identify him. I'd watch through the window to confirm that he is actually signing. Other than being very carefully for my medical safety, I don't know how else to complete the signing.

Gwendolyn Green

06 Nov 2017

As long as I can see the person sign the document and with precautions taken for my medical safety, I would speak to the person on the phone to ensure that they are signing of their own accord and would have no problem doing the notarization.

06 Nov 2017

In my case, I would have to refuse the notarization as I am undergoing Colon Cancer preventative procedures. I had the surgery & removal but my doctors are all following up with CT Scans & follow up Colonoscopy Tests to keep abreast of any re-occurrences. If exposed to the disease, I don't know if my immune system would be strong enough to prevent me from contracting the disease.

Judy Dickson

06 Nov 2017

As long as I can see the signer and can speak with him, I would feel comfortable completing the notarization. The nurse can hand me the ID from which I can ask the client to verify the information on the ID. If he can do so easily, his/her familiarity with the identification criteria would be sufficient for me. The nurse can be the courier of the ID and notary book for the person's signature.


06 Nov 2017

I'm more concerned about contagious germs on the documents and my journal/equipment. If this is not a concern and there are no liability issues with hospital allowing me to enter suited up like the nurse. I would complete the notary.

Jessica Crenshaw

06 Nov 2017

I would contact the office of the Secretary of State to ask for guidance because it seems to me it would be impossible to sanitize my journal and the risk for disease transmission could be too high. If at all possible I would ask for (in writing) permission to notarize the document prior to its being signed so that I would not have to risk any transmission post signature, and have an additional nurse act as witness to sign the journal after the document was signed on behalf of the patient. As far as ID goes I believe that being physically present and able to see the patient would be sufficient, the law does not go so far as to state we have to be in the same room or be within a certain distance, as long as I can clearly see the patient it would be sufficient. In addition the medical staff will have already taken certain steps and precautions to verify the patients identity for billing and insurance purposes. Asking the patient to confirm information on their ID via the phone would be sufficient to me. I would however be very careful to ask more questions than normal to confirm that the patient is willing to sign and fully understands the details of the document. If at all possible I would request a letter from the Doctor confirming that the patient is fully mentally capable of understanding what they are consenting to.

Jeanne yomine

06 Nov 2017

Quarantined signer? The hospital should have a vested interest in making sure everything was legal and their patient was protected while in the hospital's custody. Before agreeing, I would need the attending physician's confirmation that the patient was capable of going forward. I would need to stand at a window and see the patient. Either I or the attending nurse could use my phone to record the signing. The patient could raise his/her right hand and say something like, "I read it, I want to sign it." The witnesses would need to show their I.D.s and sign my ledger acknowledging their presence. (no family witnesses). I would record the I.D. of each witness and ask them to sign my ledger. I refer the the NNA's Fourth Edition of "The Illinois Notary Law Primer."


06 Nov 2017

I have had to grown up and enter a room to complete a notarization. I think if the patient were right by the glass and I could watch them sign the document I would complete the process.

Toni DiCapua

06 Nov 2017

In addition to seeing the patient and verifying the individual's photo identity along with the signature, I might also ask the family what questions I can ask the patient that only the patient would have an answer to. The quickness of the response could also help prove they are who they say they are. Some financial institutions use this method to help identify caller's, so why couldn't it be used in a situation such as this. Notations could then be made in the Notary journal regarding questions that were asked and responses that were provided. A little extra time might be worth it.

Verne Gordon

06 Nov 2017

This is pretty tough situation. In California, I would most likely not be able to notarize the POA. The only exception might be to use a 'subscribe by witness' if the POA had a notary acknowledgement, otherwise, it would be nearly impossible. IdentI fiction is very hard when I would be viewing someone through a window in bed. Also, theRe was no mention of an ombudsman (required in CA).

Marlen Garcia

06 Nov 2017

I work at a hospital and sought advice from our Infectious Disease and Control Department on such an issue. I was strongly advised not to perform such services as my notarial journal would be at risk of being contaminated. As a result, I decline all notary services when a patient is in isolation, explaining this clearly to the person requesting the service. I do tell them that as soon as the patient is out of isolation, I would be more than happy to assist.


06 Nov 2017

I would proceed with the notarization as long as I am able to touch his ID Card to verify that it is real. I don't see the reason why the glass separation would be an issue because being able to touch people is not part of a notarization anyway. They just have to be in front of us, which this man is.

Azar Barani

06 Nov 2017

First I would contact National Notary and get help , if not able to reach anybody at National Notary take my best as: After confirming with Dr and nurses that if the patient is competence to sign and verify the patient's identity and if I am allowed to go to room. fter verify the patient competency and identification if I am allowed to go to room I would ask a nurse to help the patient to sing and initial my journal and make sure to have two persons either nurse, Dr, or combination of both to be witness.


06 Nov 2017

So I am curious what is the proper thing to do in this situation? Could you notarize the document for the person?

Gloria A.

06 Nov 2017

I would decline the signing due to passing my book into a contaminated environment with the risk of possibly spreading germs to others. In CA we can decline if we feel uncomfortable in a situation.

Ellen J. Katzen

07 Nov 2017

The doctor cannot order forgery. The patient must seen to x Mark or sign documents. Otherwise the notary should refuse the job, or go to State Court for permission to sign, which is not right. Thank you.

Jana Armstrong

07 Nov 2017

No one mentioned thumb print in notaries book. I think the key here is to be as prepared as possible, perhaps carry a large plastic to put the signed document into.

William Card

07 Nov 2017

My concern here is whether the notarization meets the criteria for an acknowledgement. 1) Personally appears before the notary 2) was positively identified, and 3) acknowledged to the notary that the signature was freely made for the purposes stated in the document. My concern is not the issue of personal appearance or the identification of the signer, but whether this person has the capacity to sign with a full understanding of what the meaning and contents of the document represents. Assuming that the notarization is completed, how do you decontaminate your notary tools. (journal, etc.) After all, a thumb print is required. As alternative, maybe the credible witness process is the answer.

Lillian Eagan

07 Nov 2017

I have served my church as a Eucharist minister in the hospital and been in rooms of many different contagious patients and there is always a set of directions to wear gown, mask, gloves... Whatever is necessary. Rare I'd the occasion that you cannot enter properly. But, the next best of you can't enter at all, is to see and hear the signer via glass window and cell phone. I would feel confident along with the fact that the hospital knows who you are. You are not getting one over on them, that's for sure!

Walter Wing Woo

07 Nov 2017

The scenarios specifically states that the hospital staff will not allow the notary to gallon up and enter the room in this scenario we would not be able to satisfy the states specific identity process ensure the patient is willing and understanding of what they are signing I would not be able to do the notarization as requested


07 Nov 2017

The patient is dying of a contagious disease and he/she will be handling my journal? I would refuse. I think all hospitals/skilled nursing facilites, etc. should have an employee who is a notary.

Kathy Simpson

07 Nov 2017

The information sates he is "dying of a contagious disease". Unfortunately, gowning up is not protecting my notary journal from being exposed to a contagion! This is putting myself and my future signers at risk. I would decline to accept this assignment.


07 Nov 2017

I would have no problem notarizing the paperwork. I would suit up with the appropriate items the hospital gives me. As far as my items getting contaminated, all you have to do is make the signer put on gloves and a mask before you enter the room then your items will not get contaminated.

Shainaaz nelson

11 Nov 2017

This sounds like a legal matter. I would definitely contact NNA for guidance. Clearly this is a risky situation I would not put myself in the matters of legality as a notary we can not give legal advice in this kinds of situation it's very hard to even know if the patient is competent to know who his giving POA too he could be coerced into making decisions to obtain a POA because of his illness. I would immediately contact NNA it's too risky.

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