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Real-life challenges to a proper notarization

a Notary staring at documents and looking confused

Updated 12-11-23. 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.” Yet the modern world often presents Notaries with situations that can trip up even the most experienced Notary. More states are authorizing 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 online.

Many Notaries are unsure if they can lawfully perform remote online notarizations. More than 40 states have enacted permanent RON laws. During the COVID-19 crisis, many states published temporary emergency Notary orders permitting alternate forms of remote notarization to help Notaries and signers comply with state stay-at-home orders, though most of these emergency orders have expired. If your state has permanently or temporarily authorized remote notarizations, you must comply with all of your state’s guidelines before doing so.

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 reviewing 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 consultants, this issue is fairly common. 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 to identify signers.

Challenge — Confusion about an acceptable ID. Given the hundreds of different types of IDs, determining 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 Colorado and Illinois, provide specific baseline requirements for IDs. An ID that meets the required 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. Though not required by law, it’s a good idea to complete your journal entry first before concluding the notarization so you can make sure that you collect all the necessary elements of the record, including your signer’s signature, before the signer leaves. 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. You may describe the different types of notarization and let the signer choose, 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 Notary 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 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.

Related Articles:

Habits and missteps that could put Notaries at risk

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

Ginny Porrata

25 Dec 2023

I would pijevto be one an online notary and cannot get an ecertifucate- any tips?

National Notary Association

05 Jan 2024

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you wish to apply for an online Notary commission in?

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