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Notary Tip: 3 Differences Between Acknowledgments And Signature Witnessings

New-signature-witness-resiz.jpgUpdated 12-11-19. Some states authorize their Notaries to perform a type of notarization known as “signature witnessing” or “attesting a signature.” This act can be confusing for Notaries because it is similar to an acknowledgment. However, acknowledgments and signature witnessings are separate acts with different requirements. Here’s what makes a signature witnessing different. 

1. For A Signature Witnessing, The Notary Must Witness The Document Being Signed

In states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania, a signature witnessing is used when it is important to establish that a document was signed on an exact date. Like an acknowledgment, a signature witnessing requires the signer to physically appear before a Notary and be identified as required by state law.

They key difference is that for a signature witnessing, the signer must always sign the document in the Notary’s presence. After witnessing the document being signed, the Notary then completes the appropriate certificate wording for the signature witnessing.

An acknowledgment, on the other hand, does not require the Notary to witness the signature in most states (one exception is Maryland). The customer may sign it in front of the Notary or even before coming to the Notary as long as they appear before the Notary to be identified and to acknowledge having signed the document.

2. A Signature Witnessing Doesn’t Require The Signer To Make A Verbal Declaration

When performing an acknowledgment, a customer must verbally acknowledge that he or she signed the document. For example, the signer might say to the Notary, “I acknowledge I am the person who signed this document,” or the Notary might ask, “Do you acknowledge that you signed this document willingly?” and the signer could respond, “Yes, I did.”

A signature witnessing does not require the signer to verbally declare anything to the Notary. The Notary identifies the signer, the signer simply signs the document in front of the Notary, and the Notary then completes the certificate confirming when the signature was made. In Maryland, the Notary does not need to complete a certificate for a signature witnessing — instead, Maryland Notaries date, sign and affix their seal to the document. 

3. Not All States Permit Notaries To Witness Signatures

While Notaries may perform acknowledgments in every U.S. state and territory, not every state allows Notaries to witness or attest a signature. For example, Notaries in California, Florida and Texas are not authorized to witness signatures as part of their duties.

How do you recognize when a document requires a signature witnessing? You can recognize a signature witnessing by looking at the notarial certificate. If it says, “Signed (or attested) before me…”, then it is a signature witnessing.

If you are commissioned in a state that does not allow signature witnessings and a customer asks for one, explain to the customer that state law does not permit you to perform this kind of notarization. If the customer wishes, they can choose a different type of notarization — such as an acknowledgment or jurat — as an alternative. However, remember that it is up to the customer to decide what notarization they want and, as a Notary, you may not choose the type of notarization on their behalf. 

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

26 Comments

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Lorraine Scutella

09 Apr 2018

What is an example of appropriate working for signature witnessing?

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2018

Hi Lorraine, can you please clarify what you mean by "appropriate working?"

RodinDestin@gmail.com

09 Apr 2018

Someone may want to revisit number 3 of the article which indicates a Florida Notary can not witness signatures. Here is info from Florida: "May I sign a document as one of the witnesses if I am also acting as the notary public for that transaction? Generally, a notary public may sign as one of the witnesses and as the notary public on a document. In fact, it is a common practice among Florida notaries, particularly on real estate transactions. Typically, you will see the title clerk sign as one of the two required witnesses and then notarize the document signer's signature. In addition, a Florida court has held that "there is nothing to prevent a notary from also being a witness." See Walker v. City of Jacksonville, 360 So.2d 52 (1978). However, before signing as a witness, the notary should ensure that the document does not require the notarization of the witnesses' signatures. For example, a self-proof affidavit on a will or codicil requires the notarization of the signatures of the testator and both witnesses. If the notary signed as a witness in this instance, he or she would be notarizing his or her own signature, which is a criminal violation of the notary law. The notary should also certify in the notarial certificate the name of the person whose signature is being notarized. Absent such specific notation, the law presumes that all signatures were notarized. Thus, the notary could unintentionally notarize his or her own signature if the notarial certificate is not specific. Therefore, providing that the document does not require the notarization of the witnesses' signatures, the notary may be one of the two subscribing witnesses as well as the notary public."

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2018

Hello. The information you quoted is referring to whether a Florida Notary is allowed to sign a document in the capacity of a witness while notarizing another person's signature on the same document. This is not the same as performing the notarial act referred to as "witnessing a signature" or "attesting a signature" described in the article, which Florida Notaries are not authorized to perform.

Jack Crawford

09 Apr 2018

Are CA notaries prevented from signing as a witness (not signature witnessing)? Some documents have notarial wording and spaces for witnesses. Some specify both are required and some indicate either/or is acceptable. Some that require both state that the notary may also sign as a witness, some state that the notary cannot also be a witness, and some offer no instructions. Can you offer some guidelines?

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2018

Hello Jack. California has no specific prohibitions against Notaries signing as witnesses on documents. It is up to the receiving agency to decide if they will accept such a document.

Griffin

09 Apr 2018

While doing general notary work, when do certificates have to be done?

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2018

The certificate wording should always be completed while the notarization is taking place.

ian greig

09 Apr 2018

Tip #3. If a Notary cannot witness a signature in Florida I for one will be out of business. Thats what Notaries are for down here. I suggest you check this hout more carefully.

National Notary Association

10 Apr 2018

Hello. We apologize for any confusion for Florida Notaries due to the similar terminology. Florida Notaries are sometimes asked to sign a document in the capacity of a witness, and this is permitted in some situations. However, in this case the Notary is simply signing the document as a witness without notarizing. The specific notarial act referred to in some states as "signature witnessing" or "attesting a signature" as described in the article above--which requires observing a signature being written and then notarizing that signature--is not permitted in Florida. However, Florida Notaries are authorized to perform standard acknowledgments, which are similar to attesting a signature.

Alejandro

10 Apr 2018

This whole thing of witnessing and notarizing is easily confusing.

Sylvie McCann

15 Apr 2018

I’m easily confused but this article is clear. You goys may want to do more research regardind acknowledgment and jurats this will clarify this type of notarial act prohibited in Florida. I had to do it and after a few weeks of digging online i’m finally getting it. 🙂

ll@rsmx.com

08 Apr 2019

If a person brings a document for notarization that they have already signed, and the certificate wording says, “Signed (or attested) before me…”, then I cannot notarize the document (legally), correct? Could I mark out the name, initial and date it, and have them resign in my presence? Thank you!

National Notary Association

09 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.

Andrea

08 Apr 2019

Hi, Please give complete wording for a witness signature. I'm in the state of Texas and want to be sure I know the difference.

National Notary Association

08 Apr 2019

Hello. As stated in the article, Texas Notaries are not authorized to witness signatures as part of their duties, so there is no Texas certificate wording for this act.

Mary

08 Apr 2019

When we do Real Estate Loan Closings we are Witnessing Signatures and notariing them. Is the difference here the fact that we have Jurat or Acknowledgment wording on the form?

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2019

Hello. This article has more information on the different types of "witnessing" Notaries are sometimes requested to perform: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2018/05/notary-tip-requests-to-serve-as-a-document-witness

Elaine Wright Harris

11 Apr 2019

Exception for Maryland Notaries - In the state of Maryland, the Notary must witness ALL signatures. Maryland has unique requirements. Acknowledgments, Jurats (Oaths and Affirmations), and Official Witness type notarizations require the Maryland Notary to witness the signer's signature.

Ruth Meacham

02 May 2019

Please explain the difference between "Signature Witnessing" and serving as a witness on a document. Apparently there is a difference, because in Florida a notary can serve as a witness on a document.

National Notary Association

03 May 2019

Hello. This article has information on the difference between serving as a document witness as opposed to performing the notarization known as "signature witnessing" in Florida: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2018/05/notary-tip-requests-to-serve-as-a-document-witness

Dan

10 May 2019

I'm a notary in CA. If I notarize a document that requires a husband and a wife to sign, as well as two separate witnesses, how many certificates of acknowledgment do I then perform? One for all 4 individuals? One for the husband and wife and one for both witnesses? Or four separate certificates for each individual?

National Notary Association

10 May 2019

Hello Dan. For clarification, are you being asked to notarize all 4 signatures, including the witnesses? Also, are all 4 individuals signatures appearing on one document, or multiple documents?

Saya_G

20 Aug 2019

So what value are Florida, Texas and California notaries? I live in TX, and have had to have documents notarized - why? Doesn't sound like there is any value to a document being notarized. If so, someone needs to tell our notaries - they take their job very seriously and have always asked us to show ID and to register the signing in their signature register.

james.teneyck@gmail.com

10 Dec 2019

Per MD Notary Law (http://mdrules.elaws.us/comar/01.02.08.02), an acknowledgement done in MD also requires that the signer sign in the presence of the notary. I just found this out. If you have something that refutes this, please send me an email. Otherwise, please correct this article.

National Notary Association

11 Dec 2019

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We've updated the article's information on Maryland.

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