Your Cookies are Disabled! sets cookies on your computer to help improve performance and provide a more engaging user experience. By using this site, you accept the terms of our cookie policy. Learn more.

Real-life challenges to a proper notarization

Real life challenges to a proper notarization article

Updated 12-19-22. Notarization has not changed substantially over the past several hundred years, no matter how we change the way we do business. The essentials have been outlined in "5 Steps To A Proper Notarization" in the NNA’s Notary Bulletin. Yet the modern world often presents Notaries with situations that can trip up even the most experienced Notary. More states are authorizing the use of remote online notarization where these real-life challenges will exist ... but you'll have the tools to meet every challenge.Here is a list of some of the most common challenges that can cause confusion and mistakes at each step of a proper notarization.

Step 1: Require personal appearance 

Every state requires the signer to personally appear before you during the notarization. That’s crucial because it helps protect your signer, your employer, anyone relying on the notarization and you against potential fraud and liability. It also allows you to complete other steps in a proper notarization.

Challenge — Requests for remote online notarization. With remote notarization, the personal appearance requirement is satisfied when the signer and Notary meet using audiovisual technology over the internet.

Many Notaries are unsure if they can lawfully perform remote online notarizations. Currently 43 states have enacted permanent RON laws. If your state has authorized remote notarizations, you must be sure to comply with all of your state's guidelines before doing so. If your state does not authorize remote notarizations, you must still require signers to appear in your physical presence at the time the notarization takes place.

Step 2: Check The Document 

This step is necessary for confirming the appropriate certificate wording, making sure there are no blank spaces and verifying that the name on the ID supports the name on the document. 

Challenge — Scanning or reading the document. Because this step has sometimes been referred to as "scanning the document," some Notaries mistake it to mean actually scanning the document into their computer to have a digital copy. Other Notaries see this step as requiring them to read the entire document. Neither is true.

Your task is to look over the document only enough to obtain the information you need to complete the notarization. Once you’ve confirmed what you need, you shouldn’t spend time reading over the document in detail because this may be considered a breach of signers’ privacy.

Challenge — Failing to recognize the certificate wording. According to the NNA’s Hotline counselors, this is a fairly common issue. And there are some simple suggestions:

  • Look below the signer’s signature line. This is where certificate wording is usually located.
  • Look for the words, "State of" and "County of." Referred to as the "venue," it is one of the elements of most notarial certificates.
  • Look for words such as "acknowledged before me" or "subscribed and sworn before me." These words also will help you determine what type of notarization is required.

Step 3: Verify The Signer's Identity 

Properly verifying your signer’s identity is the duty of every Notary, and there are three general identification methods: government-issued IDs, personal knowledge and credible identifying witnesses. California is the only state that does not permit Notaries to use personal knowledge.

Challenge — Confusion about what is acceptable ID. Relying on government-issued ID is by far the most common way Notaries identify their signers. But given the hundreds of different types of IDs, deciding what is or isn’t acceptable can be challenging. Some states, such as California and Florida, have specific lists of IDs that their Notaries may accept. Other states, such as Illinois, have specific baseline requirements for IDs. They can include being issued by a state or federal government agency and containing a photograph and signature of the individual. Any ID that has the essential elements is acceptable.

Step 4: Complete Your Journal Entry

Most states either require or recommend Notaries maintain a record or journal of all notarizations. A good journal entry contains details of the notarization that are helpful in case it is later called into question. 

Challenge — Forgetting to complete the journal entry before the certificate. This often happens. And in fact, no state stipulates that the journal entry should be made first. However, it’s a good idea to complete your journal entry before concluding the notarization so you can make sure to collect all the necessary elements of the record, including your signer’s signature. This is particularly true for Notaries in states that require a journal. The NNA Hotline often gets calls from Notaries who have forgotten some required element of the entry, such as a signature or document title, and the signer has already departed.

Step 5: Complete The Certificate 

The last step of a notarization is to complete, sign and affix your seal on the notarial certificate. And you are responsible for making sure it is completed correctly.

Challenge — No certificate wording. Many documents do not include certificate wording. In this case, you must ask your signer what type of notarization is required and then attach a separate certificate form. Many signers do not know what type of notarization they need, so you may describe the different types. But you may not make the decision for them unless you are a licensed attorney. If your signer is still uncertain, they should contact the issuing or receiving agency for instructions.

Challenge — Making a mistake. Even a minor mistake in completing the certificate can cause a document to be rejected by the receiving agency. Some of the most common mistakes include: listing the wrong venue; writing your name in the space for the signer’s name; entering the wrong date; not signing your name properly; or improperly affixing your stamp.

When completing the Notary certificate, don't rush. Take the time to read it to make sure you know what you need to do. Double-check your work to make sure all the details are correct. For example, the venue should reflect where you performed the notarization, not where the document was prepared or will be filed, and the date of notarization is the date the signer appeared before you, not any other date that appears on the document.

Finally, take care to sign and affix your seal properly. Always sign your name exactly in the form that is required by your state’s laws. Usually, it is the signature that you filed with the commissioning official. Your seal should be close to your signature but should not overlap any wording. The goal is to make everything legible. If you are in a state that does not require you to use a seal, you may need to print your name and commission information in other spaces below your signature. Make sure the name you print is the name as it appears on your Notary commission.

Remember, certificate wording may vary from state to state, but it is your state's laws that govern the wording you use and how you complete it. If you run into a tricky notarization, don't be afraid to ask for help. It’s far better to seek guidance rather than risk a mistake that may cause problems for your signer or yourself. And there are plenty of resources for Notary questions with the answers you need.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor at the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

Bayron Ortiz

11 Jul 2018


Tim Gatewoid

27 May 2019

Your list of states that have authorized RON is obsolete. As you have already reported, many other states have now authorized it. Some have not yet implemented their RON laws, but some have. For instance, Tennessee gave the SOS until July to publish rules; they published "emergency" rules in April.

r miller

09 Jun 2020

When is a California notary allowed to charge $7 for an oath? If a customer has a Jurat, does the notary only charge $15 for the signature and nothing for the oath? Please advise

Audralyn odim

26 Dec 2022

Thank you. I often come across situations where a signer is given a document and only instructed to “get the document notarized “. The signer often has no idea of the type of notarization is required. I’ve noted that those documents do not have ‘clues’ concerning the area for notary completion. In SC, the SOS had recommended that the notary attach a loose certificate or hand write notarial wording (affirmation/acknowledgment) on the document prior to affixing the notarial stamp

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.