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Notary Bulletin

3 Tips For Documents Without Notary Certificates

confused-no-cert-resized.jpgUpdated 3-22-21. If a signer doesn't know what type of notarization they want from you, and there's no certificate wording on the document, what do you do? Here are three important tips to follow in this situation:

1. Avoid the unauthorized practice of law.

If you aren’t an attorney, remember that it’s against the law for you to provide unauthorized legal advice. This includes answering simple questions from a signer such as “What notarization do you think I should use here?” or “Which certificate form should I use?”

Giving that sort of advice is a violation of law and can result in some states with being charged with a criminal offense or possibly losing your Notary commission. And, if you give a signer the wrong information and it causes the signer legal problems, you could be forced to pay costly damages in a Notary lawsuit.

When it's not certain what type of notarization the signer needs, always follow these rules: 

  • Never choose the type of notarization for the signer, even if the signer wants you to.
  • Never give a signer advice about the type of notarization a particular document needs. For example, you should never say, “Most power of attorney documents I notarize require an acknowledgment.” You have no way of knowing if the signer’s document is an exception to the norm. Even if it isn’t, you’re unlawfully practicing law because you are applying legal concepts to a signer’s particular situation.

2. Ask the signer to choose the type of notarization.

While you can’t choose the notarization for a document, the signer can. If the signer can tell you the type of notarization they want, you can simply proceed from there.

However, most signers are unaware that there is more than one type of notarization or how to distinguish one from another. If the signer isn’t sure what they want, it’s OK to describe the different notarial acts the law authorizes you to perform and allow the signer to pick the one they want. For example, you can describe how acknowledgments and jurats differ and let the signer choose between them. Again, the most important thing is not to make the choice for them.  

3. Check with the issuing or receiving agency. 

If the signer still isn’t sure which notarization they need, they should contact someone who knows. This could be the individual or agency that issued the document, or the one that will receive it. If they can’t provide help, the signer may need to consult with an attorney who can give legal advice about the document.

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

View All: Best Practices

21 Comments

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Michael Green

21 Apr 2018

There has to be some way for a notary to identify a clearly erroneous form, e.g., an acknowledgment form attached to a real estate contract where state law says a jurat is required. The notary faces risk not only from giving prohibited legal advice, but also from executing a notarial act that appears to be illegal on its face. You mentioned the former risk, but not the latter.

MisterJ

19 Jun 2018

I have the same question as Michael Green. What is the official NNA stance on this?

National Notary Association

19 Jun 2018

Hello. Notaries are not permitted to give unauthorized legal advice. That includes nonattorney Notaries choosing the notarization on the signer's behalf. As stated previously in the article, "Never give a signer advice about the type of notarization a particular document needs. For example, you should never say, 'Most power of attorney documents I notarize require an acknowledgment.' You have no way of knowing if the signer’s document is an exception to the norm. Even if it isn’t, you’re unlawfully practicing law because you are applying legal concepts to a signer’s particular situation."

Jack Crawford

27 Apr 2019

Would it be acceptable to say something as simple as: In either case, as the notary, I am stating that you proved to me to be the person who signed the document. I am not n attorney so I cannot advise you which one to choose, but in general terms, the difference between a Jurat and an Acknowledgement is that with a Jurat you are swearing to the truthfulness of the document; whereas with an Acknowledgement you are agreeing to the terms of the document. Look the document over and see if you can determine which would be more appropriate. If you are still uncertain then you should contact the issuing agency for their advice.

Jane L Hebert

27 Apr 2020

I was under the impression that the signature has to take place in front of the notary. In this article it states it can be signed when presented. Has this changed. I am in Illinois.

National Notary Association

27 Apr 2020

Hello. If the signer requests acknowledgment of a signature, the signer may sign the document prior to appearing before the Notary. However, if the signer requests a jurat, the signer must sign the document in the Notary's presence.

JL

27 Apr 2020

Or, do them a favor and give them both an acknowledgment and a jurat - they’ll find out which they need eventually.

National Notary Association

27 Apr 2020

While a Notary may describe notarial acts to a signer and let the signer choose one as described in the article above, a Notary should not decide on the signer's behalf what type of notarization is required and should not provide blank, unused Notary certificate wording to signers.

Lori A Mehrer

27 Apr 2020

I explain to them what a Jurat is and what an Acknowledgement is. I also let them view the forms so that they can read and decide what they want. A few years ago, I needed a notary performed for myself. I attached an Acknowledgement to the document and took it in to be notarized. The notary proceeded to read the document entirely and then tell me that I needed a Jurat. I informed him that no, I only needed the attached Acknowledgement performed. Then he proceeded to explain to me why I needed a Jurat instead. I quickly stopped that conversation with the 'I am a Notary. You are not allowed to give me legal advice by telling me what kind of notary I need performed'. Since I've become a notary, both times I've had to get one performed by someone else, I've had issues with improper procedures.

Oswald J. Bien-Aime

04 May 2020

Many, many, many times have I received packages for California properties with California notarial certificates. I just swap in the same notarial certificates that is for New York... case closed!

linda lewis

05 Apr 2021

Can I just add an acknowledgment for every signing

National Notary Association

05 Apr 2021

Hello. No, you may not. The signer must choose the notarial act desired, not you. Unless you are a qualified attorney, choosing the notarial act on the signer's behalf is considered the unauthorized practice of law.

Enereida Cruz

05 Apr 2021

Hi, I just got my stamp. My county is DuPage. I have noticed that some documents have already written the County that is not DuPage. The county always has to be DuPage, right? Can you advise? For Example: State of Illinois County of Cook

National Notary Association

06 Apr 2021

Hello. If you are referring to the venue portion of Notary certificate wording, the venue information is the location where the notarization takes place. For more information, please see here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2015/12/notary-certificate-four-simple-parts

Glenda Pliler

05 Apr 2021

How is the average signer going to know what form to use? They generally know less than we do.

National Notary Association

06 Apr 2021

Hello. In situations where the signer is not sure what notarial act is required, the signer should contact either the document issuing agency or the receiving agency to ask what type of notarization is needed.

Joe Ewing

05 Apr 2021

Excellent advice, you are very lucky to have a top attorney like David Thun on your staff.

David Thun

06 Apr 2021

Hello, Joe, this is David Thun responding to your comment. I just wanted to clarify that I am not an attorney and do not offer legal advice, but I'm glad you found the article helpful!

John

05 Apr 2021

Scenario 1: A Deed is presented with the legal description indicating just the postal address of the property. The notary points out the legal description is not the postal address. ==> 1. Practicing law w/o a license? 2. Should he proceed with the notarial act? Scenario 2: A Deed is presented with the following in the legal description: "See Attached Exhibit A", and an attachment that is titled "Addendum A" or is, in fact, untitled but has the legal description. The notary points out the discrepancy (or omission). ==> 1. Practicing law w/o a license? 2. Should she proceed with the notarial act?

National Notary Association

06 Apr 2021

Hello. If a Signing Agent believes they have seen a potential error in a loan document, the Signing Agent should not advise the borrower how to proceed. The Signing Agent should contact the lender or title company to request instructions before proceeding.

John

06 Apr 2021

I think you're dodging the question. Not every notarial act is generated by a signing agent. I stopped doing signings ages ago, but still get scenarios such as the ones I outlined. What is the difference between a signing agent contacting the lender or title company (to advise of a problem or error) and doing the same with a signer who comes into the office with, say, a Quitclaim Deed that is incorrectly completed as in the scenarios above? It's almost as if "practicing law without a license" is a reason to not use common sense and ignore objective reality. Not every step a notary takes is thin ice that will inundate him with felonious exposure. Having said that, I respect your position that it can become a slippery slope that can develop into problems of the sort you indicate.

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