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What Would You Do: The case of the shaky hand

elderly-woman-hand-resized.jpgThe Notary Hotline receives hundreds of calls daily from Notaries nationwide who find themselves in challenging situations. To boost your knowledge of Notary standards of practice, we’ve created a series of scenarios based on actual situations and ask a simple question: What would you do?

In this real-life situation, imagine being called to the home of a retired couple. They are refinancing their mortgage and you are there to handle the signing. The husband is alert and energetic, and he’s fully engaged in the details of the transaction.

His wife, however, is brought to the table in a wheelchair by a caregiver. She is alert and able to interact with you on a basic level about the signing. But she has muscle control issues, and as she starts to sign the documents, her hand is so shaky the caregiver must hold her hand steady.

What would you do?

This case presents an interesting challenge. Is it permissible for a person to have help signing a document? Is it permissible for you to notarize such a signature? Are there alternatives?

To participate in this week’s “What Would You Do?” scenario, share your answers in the comments section below. We may mention your response in next week’s Bulletin, when we offer the best possible answer(s) to this notarial challenge.

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View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

June Wilson

05 May 2018

I would allow her husband to sign for her ONLY if she requests it and remains st the signing and understands each document she signs and husband signs her name/his initials.

Carol Lynch

07 May 2018

My mother had the same issue but was able to sign by mark. The paper was placed so that she could rest her forearm on the table and she was able to make the mark without assistance. The letter X was squiggly, but clearly legible.

Cindy Vargas

07 May 2018

I would accept the signature of a POA, or a witnessed signature by mark. If neither were viable options, I'd likely be a loss, so I'd call the hotline.

Elspeth Day

07 May 2018

I would advise the husband that they needed a power of attorney so the husband or some agreed upon relative can sign for her. If I had advance notice, I would have one with me.

Carolina Pinho

07 May 2018

I am not sure what the law says, but, considering that the population lives longer every generation, notary laws must consider and accept (if not already) that if the individual is alert and understands the contents of the document he is about to sign, notaries should be allowed to accept shaky signatures or that a third party helps the signer to steady his hand.


07 May 2018

In Texas law there is a provision where you use a disinterested witness and I would sign the documents for her.

Keith Harding

07 May 2018

Shaky hands as well as pain and discomfort is often due to Parkinson's Disease. California permits a signature by mark " X", and two credible witnesses.

Kerry A Wilson

07 May 2018

I had a case where, as the signing progressed, I became more and more concerned about whether the wife was competent. It started out fine but then rapidly and progressively became worse (I had to remind her of the current date every single time where she was to put a date and point her to the place to sign). Even with my assistance she had difficulty signing her name anywhere near the proper spot and the times she did I felt is was mostly luck. I did call the title company upon departure to alert them of my concern. I don't know what the end result was.

Joslynn T

07 May 2018

I am a CA notary and would never allow someone else to assist in signing a legal document that I would be notarizing. To me it's about ethics, authenticity, no room for being questioned about coercion or intent of signer. I would ascertain whether or not the signature is legible enough to know it's her name, otherwise she would sign with the "X" and we would proceed with notary rules accordingly.

Anne Nespor

07 May 2018

If she was unable to sign her name, I would ask her to make a mark and note this detail of the notarization in my journal.

linda L Mitchell

07 May 2018

Besides being a notary, my primary occupation is Forensic Document Examiner. As such, my focus is identifying handwriting. The question surrounding the guided hand issue is, when does a signature lose the identifying features of one writer and take on the habits of another. For identification purposes, tremulous handwriting can still contain some of the writer's habits; however, when another person attempts to guide the pen, the writing can be changed altogether. Either way, identification is difficult at best. As a notary, it is my job to confirm the identity of the signer, not the quality of the signature. I only assist the writer to the extent that is required to stay within the signing area. More importantly, I make a clear note in my journal about the circumstances, who assisted and to what extent.

G A. Easter

07 May 2018

If all other signs indicate a competent signer, I would notarize. Document journal as to cause as stated by clients


07 May 2018

I would not allow anyone to hold the signing hand. I would kindly suggest we wait to finish the signature and proceed with happy small talk to relax the signer. Shaky hand get shakier with nerves. When I feel the signer is relaxes then I would see if they were ready to proceed. I would still compare the shaky signature with the signature on the government document. If the signature is too far gone then I would proceed with signature by mark.

Jodie Dillow

07 May 2018

I don't really feel comfortable with someone assisting the signer, even though it seems like it might be okay, as she is alert and interactive. I have attended a closing where the elderly signer had really shaky handwriting. We just had to allow him extra time to affix his signature to each document. It wasn't very legible. I alerted the title company, they didn't have an issue with it and the loan went through anyway. The only other alternative I could think of would be to have the husband sign a power of attorney and act as her attorney-in-fact.

Judy Dickson

07 May 2018

As long as the signer is alert and knows what she is signing, I would proceed with the notary. Typically, I find that people in these situations are very apologetic regarding their handicap. I would try to re-assure the signer as often as needed to place them at east. As long as the signer doesn't seem to be under duress, I do not think it is a problem for someone else to help steady their hand, as long as it's done in your presence. I would make a note about the situation in the appropriate section of my notary journal, though.


07 May 2018

I would use an alternative of her using "Make Your Mark" as long as I have the required amount of witnesses available, she could do it on her own & I am confident she is coherent.

Tina Wallace

07 May 2018

No matter how shaky her signature is I'm witnessing her actual signature. Her ID will show her normal signature and I will compare them. There will be similarities. Also, I would note her signing issue in my journal, and attach a note explaining the situation to the documents for the company who hired me.

Staci Joan Palmer

07 May 2018

I would let her sign by a mark of an X and I would have a witness other than her husband witness the mark and I would have the witness sign my notary book under the X.

Susan Littlefield

07 May 2018

First off, call yourhiring agency to let them know of the situation? Ask them if the husband may sign. If they say no, then follow all your state laws firsignTure by mark. I Another alternative is to take the signing slowly, offer rest times when needed, and never rush.

M. Miller

07 May 2018

I would call the person or company that created the document. Let them know the situation and ask if the signer has set up for a mark or x or represent a signing. Hopefully they are aware of the issue if not, I would just be patient and make the signer try to relax.

Deborah Camara

07 May 2018

I would allow her husband or person with POA to sign for her at her request of course. If not acceptable, she could always just make an X, and I would make a notation in my book regarding her physical inability to sign her name. Finger print or photo of her ID might be good to have also in case there is any question that the signature was hers.


08 May 2018

Whether her hand is shaky or not, it's still her signature if she's the one signing it. Signatures are not always going to look the same from signature to signature even though the same person is signing it. The point is, as the notary, if I witness someone sign something, then it's them and the notarization is the certification that I as the notary saw them sign it and identified them as the signer.

Christine Wissbrun

08 May 2018

This reinforces my argument for the use of the Notary Journal in my State of Michigan. I would allow her to sign once I had confirmed that she was fully aware of the documents that she was signing but I would notate in my journal that she had health issues that affect the appearance of her signature.

Pamela Mossman

08 May 2018

Years ago I accompanied an attorney to a hospital to notarize for one of her elderly clients. The client had fallen and broken her right wrist (her writing hand) which was in a cast AND she suffered from Parkinson's Disease so she was shaky to start with. She signed with an "X" using her left hand and the mark was witnessed.

Connie Hartman

08 May 2018

I would allow her to sign as best as she could as long as she understood why I was there and what she was signing and I was able to properly identify her. I often tell them that I am not the "penmanship police".

Susan littlefield

09 May 2018

After more thought, I need to amend my answer. For the notarized documents, only the POA could sign on her behalf. Otherwise , we can follow the procedure for signature by mark or simply make more time for her to sign.


09 May 2018

I would allow her to make a signature by mark.

Lawrence Burrows

10 May 2018

In this instance I would ask the signer at that moment whether they are okay with the guidance of the care taker helping her hand stay on track and compare signature. Because we should already have an understanding of who the signer is and that she is competent. Follow up with a note(specifics are key) in the journal and the name of the care taker.


10 May 2018

In the state of Oregon we have what is called "Signature by 3rd Party" or "Signature by Proxy". If an individual is physically unable to sign a record, the individual may direct an individual other than the notary to sign the individual’s name on the record. The notarial officer shall insert “Signature affixed by (name of other individual) at the direction of (name of individual)” or words of similar import.

Habib H Hemani

22 May 2018

Please advise a client to seek legal help for shaky hands where someone have to help sign the document. In California, a Notary Public only suppose to witness a signature or signature by mark.

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