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Notary Tip: Requests To Serve As A Document Witness

document-witness-resized.jpg“Someone asked me if I can notarize his signature and also act as a witness for the document. Is that OK?” 

It’s a question that constantly comes up for our NNA Hotline Counselors: Can a Notary serve as a document witness while notarizing a person’s signature at the same time? Generally, it’s better to say no — even when allowed by state law — because it’s easy to confuse acting as a Notary with being a document witness, creating a possible conflict of interest. 

What Is A Document Witness?
 

A "document witness"" is an individual who watches another individual sign a document. Usually state law will specify when document witnesses are required. In Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina for example, in addition to being acknowledged before a Notary, a deed or mortgage related to real property must have witnesses present when someone signs before it can be recorded. In many jurisdictions, powers of attorney or last wills and testaments may also require one or more witnesses to be present at signing. Witnesses typically sign the document as well.

Witnesses to these documents are not Notaries — they are private individuals. And the witnessing of a signature in this context is not considered a notarization.

Depending on the requirements for the document being signed:

  • Witnesses may need to be at least 18 years of age.
  • Close relatives might be prohibited from being a witness.
  • More than one witness may be needed.

Can A Notary Be A Document Witness?

If you are notarizing a signature on the document, can you also be a document witness? The answer is yes if you’re a Connecticut, Florida or South Carolina Notary.

However, Georgia and Kansas prohibit Notaries from also acting as document witnesses. Maine and Rhode Island strongly advise against notarizing a signature and being a document witness for the same transaction.

In every other state where specific rules are not provided, the safest course is to turn down requests to both notarize the signature and act as a document witness.

Witnessing a document may require you to sign the document — which could create a conflict of interest if you are asked to notarize other signatures on the same document. The easiest way to avoid possible conflicts is to choose to act officially as a Notary or privately as a document witness — but not both for the same transaction.

"Witnessing A Signature" Vs. Being A Document Witness: What’s The Difference?

Some Notaries confuse a type of notarization known as "attesting a signature" or "signature witnessing" with being a document witness. It’s easy to mix them up because both refer to “witnessing” and require you to be present when the document is signed. There are two important differences:

First, when you witness or attest a signature as a Notary, you are performing an official act authorized by your state law that only a Notary may do. And second, unlike document witnesses, Notaries must satisfy several requirements for a signature witnessing:

  • Notaries must identify the individual signing the document.
  • Notaries must complete a notarial certificate for the signature witnessing.
  • Notaries must sign the notarial certificate for the signature witnessing with their official signature and authenticate it with their Notary seal (in most states).
  • Notaries may be required to record a journal entry for the act.
  • Notaries may charge a fee if permitted by statute.  

Witnessing a signature is a different act from an acknowledgment, and not every state authorizes their Notaries to perform them.

More than a dozen states authorize Notaries to witness signatures as a notarial act, including Delaware, Colorado (starting July 1, 2018) and Pennsylvania. And, while Florida permits Notaries to be document witnesses, it does not authorize them to witness signatures as an official notarial act.

If you are asked to act as a document witness, you are not performing an official notarization. You watch the signature being made and then sign the document as a private individual — not as a Notary. You do not complete a notarial certificate as a document witness and you may not charge a fee.

Notaries in other states should check their official state Notary website for guidance on acting as an individual witness and Notary on the same document.

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

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

8 Comments

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Lorraine W. Pereverziev

07 May 2018

Can you explain what the conflict of interest would be in notarizing a document and acting as a witness on the document, please? I am a California notary and have never come up on the idea of the possible conflict. Any illumination would be helpful and much appreciated.

National Notary Association

07 May 2018

Hello Lorraine. For example, if the Notary signed a document acting as an individual witness, but the Notary was then asked to notarize other signatures on the document, the Notary's impartiality could be called into question because the Notary is already named in a separate individual role in the document. Generally, Notaries are considered to have a possible conflict of interest when notarizing a document the Notary benefits from, is a party to, or is named in.

Charles Tolliver II

07 May 2018

In Louisiana, the purpose of having witnesses is to create a special document type called an Authentic Act. Under Louisiana law, an Authentic Act in court can not be disputed to having been signed by the signer.

Evan Hennessey

07 May 2018

So in California, if I notarize someone's signature on a Power of Attorney and they later bring it back and want me to certify a copy of it, I should decline because I'm now named in the original document? Seems like these examples are outside the intent of maintaining impartiality and avoiding a conflict of interest.

National Notary Association

08 May 2018

Notarizing a document in your official capacity is not the same as signing a document as a private individual.

Kenneth A Henrich

07 May 2018

I've signed as a witness and also notarized signatures on the same document many times. As long as it is ok with the title co and lender, and does not violate state law you will be fine.

Debbie skiles

04 Sep 2018

I’ve been requested to act as a witness, in addition to, notarizing a document created by a lawyer that will be present at the signing. With his presence, would it be considered a conflict of interest?

National Notary Association

05 Sep 2018

Hello Debbie. We're sorry, we would need more information in order to answer your question. Your best course may be to speak with one of our Notary Hotline counselors at 1-888-876-0827. If you can provide the counselor with additional information such as what state you are calling from and whether you are notarizing the lawyer's signature on the document, the counselor should be able to assist you.

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