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Notary tip: 3 Differences between acknowledgments and signature witnessings

Updated 7-19-22. Some states authorize their Notaries to perform an act 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. 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. 

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 attest a signature. For example, Notaries in California, Florida and Texas are not authorized to perform signature witnessing notarizations as part of their duties. Also, performing a signature witnessing is not the same as a request to serve as a document witness in a non-notarial capacity, and Notaries must be very careful not to confuse the two. 

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 Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

Still have questions? As an NNA Member, you have year-round access to the NNA Hotline where your questions are answered by an expert in the field.

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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?"

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.


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.


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. 🙂

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.


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.


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:

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:


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?


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.

10 Dec 2019

Per MD Notary Law (, 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.

Judy Jackson

10 Aug 2020

If I am asked to notarize a signature witnessing document (in Texas) and If the customer wishes to choose a different type of notarization — such as an acknowledgment or jurat — as an alternative, do I then need to attached an acknowledgement or jurat notarial certificate to the document to suffice for the notarization? I hope you understand what I mean here.

National Notary Association

11 Aug 2020

Hello. If a signer asks for a type of notarization that differs from pre-printed notarial wording on the document, then you would need to complete and attach separate, appropriate Notary certificate wording for the requested act. So for example, if a customer asked for an acknowledgment, but there was jurat wording pre-printed on the document, you would need to complete and attach the appropriate acknowledgment certificate wording to perform the notarization.

Sheryl Hein-Boykin

14 Aug 2020

In Ca, if I am not notarizing a document, can I still witness it?

National Notary Association

17 Aug 2020

Hello. "Signature Witnessing," the notarial act described in the article above, is not permitted in California. For more information about witnessing a document signing in a non-Notary capacity, please see this article for more information:

Karen Dole

08 Jan 2021

Witnessing or attesting a signature is similar to a verification except when:

Melissa F Gardner

14 May 2021

What if the person signing a house over doesn't match his signature on license or his Will? Is that something a notary might check?

National Notary Association

19 May 2021

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.


08 Aug 2021

When completing a signature witnessing do I also have to complete an acknowledgment certificate. I work in California. Thank you.

National Notary Association

12 Aug 2021

Hello. As stated in the article above, California does not authorize its Notaries to perform signature witnessings.

Mary Tepley

19 May 2022

I live in Hawaii so I wanted the Notary from the Bank to notarize my signature not give me an Acknowledgement since I had two other notaries at the same bank notarize my Objection of a Motion in a Court Proceeding earlier. Now she balked at giving me any type of notary services called their Legal Dept. then gave me the Acknowledgement and didn't want to sign it so hoping it's the same as the others? She made me late for court and couldn't care less then waited on other customers, was late by 20+ minutes for our Notary Appt. then wa$ted precious time so the Judge scolded me on the date of the Hearing where I had to rush to get it there so thankfully the Judge accepted the Objection. I'm confused, very upset since she did her best to get me to miss Probate Court so I only wanted her to notarize my signature after she told me that she had to examine the Will and the Death Certificate so I gave her both. Next, in signing her name she used a Circle scroll not her name. Any advice is much appreciated as this is the very first time this ever happened so am I wrong to think she made a mistake in not allowing me to choose which type of Notary Service I wanted? She even lured me back into the bank then chose to wait on other banking customers knowing my Hearing was coming up in less than one hour. I lodged a complaint have yet to hear from the Bank and very disgusted after she delayed my attempt to have a Notary do their job even told me to go down the street to another place when an appointment is necessary to try to get rid of me. Thank you kindly for any feedback. Aloha

Ashley Tucker

20 May 2022

Could you tell me what Texas law code that explains the Texas Notary being unable to perform Signature Witnessing Notarizations? I have been searching everywhere on the internet and cannot seem to find that particular law.

National Notary Association

01 Jun 2022

Hello. GC 406.016[a] authorizes Texas Notaries to perform the following acts: Take acknowledgments and proofs; • Administer oaths and affirmations; • Take depositions; • Certify copies of documents not recordable in the public record; • Protest negotiable instruments; • Open and inventory safe deposit boxes (Finance Code [FC] 59.109[a-2]).


23 May 2022

Are Individual acknowledgment allow in Utah?

National Notary Association

01 Jun 2022

Hello. Can you please clarify what you mean by an "individual acknowledgment?"

Charlene Coulter

13 Sep 2022

What does a notary use, a verification or an acknowledgment if the word acknowledged appears in the notarize certificate

National Notary Association

16 Sep 2022

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.

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