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Real-Life Challenges To A Proper Notarization

MAG18-March-Apple-hires.jpg(Originally published in the March 2018 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

Notarization has not changed substantially over the past several hundred years, no matter how we change the way we do business. For the 21st century Notary, those essentials have been outlined in “5 Steps To A Proper Notarization” — the single most popular article on the NNA’s online Notary Bulletin. Yet the modern world often presents Notaries with situations that can trip up even the most experienced Notary. 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 webcam electronic notarization. With the advent of webcam electronic notarization, also known as "remote" or "online" notarization, many signers are asking for this option. With webcam electronic notarization, the personal appearance requirement is satisfied when the signer and Notary meet using audio-visual technology over the internet.

While a growing number of businesses and signers are enthusiastic about the convenience of online electronic notarizations, many Notaries are unsure if they can lawfully perform them. In most cases, the answer is no. Currently, only Virginia and Montana authorize Notaries to perform these notarizations. In Virginia, Notaries must obtain a special commission to perform remote notarizations. In Montana, online notarizations may be performed under restricted circumstances. As of July 1, 2018, Notaries in Texas and Nevada also will be able to perform webcam electronic notarizations.

No other state currently authorizes webcam electronic notarizations. Unless your state specifically authorizes you to perform webcam 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 Colorado and 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.

For states that do not provide any specific laws or rules, The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility recommends that an acceptable ID should contain at least a photograph, be issued by a government agency and be unexpired at the time it is presented.

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 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 an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

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Bayron Ortiz

11 Jul 2018

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