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3 things you can’t do as a Notary

Updated 4-3-23. A Notary’s role in identifying document signers and preventing fraud is important, but remember there are certain services you cannot perform. Here are 3 things you cannot do as a Notary:

  1. Don’t endorse advertising as a Notary
  2. Don’t use your Notary commission to offer improper legal advice
  3. Don’t use your Notary seal to make a document appear “legal”

1. Don't endorse advertising as a Notary

Notaries are sometimes asked to use their seal or official title to endorse a product, contest or individual in advertising. For example, you might be approached by someone who’s running a sweepstake. The person wants to include your seal and signature in the ad, along with the message “This contest is guaranteed by a Notary Public.” Don’t do it.

Not only do many states prohibit using a Notary seal and commission except for authorized notarizations, but people seeing the ad may falsely assume that the ad is government-approved because a Notary is involved — and that’s just not true.

Only use your Notary commission to perform authorized acts. In 1977, a New York Notary certified that blood from the rock band KISS was mixed in the ink of their promotional comic book — an act that New York Notaries aren’t normally allowed to perform. While Notaries in Washington are authorized to certify that an event took place or an act was performed, Washington Notaries may only confirm that the occurrence or performance actually took place — not promote or endorse it in advertising.  

2. Don't use your Notary commission to offer improper legal advice

Many people mistakenly assume that Notaries have the legal know-how to answer their questions about the legal effect of their documents, explain how to complete a document, or choose the type of notarization a signer needs for a document. While it may seem harmless to help a signer with these questions, under the law only a qualified attorney or other authorized legal professional is permitted to provide this information — Notaries cannot. If a non-attorney accidentally gave a signer wrong information that caused the signer’s document to be rejected, the person giving the information could be held liable for any damages that resulted, along with other penalties. For example, California Notaries can have their commissions suspended or revoked by the Secretary of State for the unauthorized practice of law.

3. Don't use your Notary seal to make a document appear “legal”

Occasionally, individuals have asked Notaries to fulfill improper requests in order to “legalize” a document and make its contents binding in a court of law — for example, asking a Notary to affix a seal to a document without performing a notarization or completing any certificate wording.

These demands are often based on the mistaken belief that a Notary’s seal or signature by itself will automatically make a document legal in a court of law regardless of its content — but that’s not true. Notaries verify the identity of the signer — a receiving agency is not required to accept the validity or legality of the contents of a document solely based on whether it is notarized or includes a Notary seal. The mere presence of a Notary seal without a certificate is not a proper notarization. A Notary should never stamp, sign or use their commission for any request except notarizations permitted under state law. If you are asked to “legalize” a document by performing an improper or unlawful notarization, you should always refuse.

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


Related Articles:

When to say ‘No’ … and when refusing a notarization is not allowed


65 Comments

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Joe Frank Freudensprung

02 May 2019

We believe a notary public helped a man and wife steal his disabled sisters inheritance

Kim / Indiana

06 May 2019

I have been asked to notarize a signature/signing of a document because the person was told it needed to be done, however there was no place for a notary. Is this acceptable or should it have a separate document attached? If you notarize it do you sign and date under your seal?

National Notary Association

07 May 2019

Hello. The signer would have to choose what type of notarization they want, such as an acknowledgment or jurat. Once the signer selects the type of notarization, you may then complete and attach the appropriate Notary certificate wording to the document, and then affix your seal to the certificate.

Nichelle Russien

06 May 2019

My first year as a notary a client came to me saying that she wanted to divorce her husband. So I asked do you have a document stating so because I cannot help you I am just a notary not a lawyer. So she said here is my document she took out a piece of paper wrote simply. My name is ###### I want to divorce ####. She signed and dated it and I notarized her signature and told her to go to a lawyer for more help.

MARY

07 May 2019

can a notary prepare and execute a "rent to own" document and keep records for the seller on the payments in Texas

National Notary Association

07 May 2019

Hello. Notaries may not prepare a document or give advice on how to fill out, draft or complete a document. Please see here for more information: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2015/07/notary-basics-avoiding-unauthorized-practice-of-law

BJW

08 May 2019

Are these questions from actual commissioned notaries? If so, that's scary.

Bre

11 May 2019

BJW: In a lot of states there's no Notary training required to become a Notary. Though they should seek training, they shouldn't be knocked for asking these questions.

Virginia Mason-Greene

12 May 2019

These comments are "really scary" are these actual notaries who have passed the required exams?

Julie RIce

26 May 2019

I understand there are states where the requirements are minimal to obtain a notary commission. At the convention in St. Louis, I met several NNA members from other states who are aware that their state is one such state. I know they are grateful for the NNA where they can become a member, and ask the questions they need and receive an answer to help them out as a notary. I’m commissioned in California, so I SHOULD know everything. HAHAHAHAHA. But, there are times I’m thrown for a loop, and I too am grateful I can call up the NNA and get some “back-up.” Love you guys!!!

MisterJ

06 Jun 2019

Virginia Mason-Greene, not everybody here is from California. Many US states do NOT have any kind of "required exams" that must be passed to become a notary. It's usually just a matter of sending in an application along with a fee.

DIANA COLLINS

24 Sep 2019

I have turned people away that has a document already signed .j5Mw4V

Angelo M DeArco

10 Oct 2019

Wow! This is actually a useful & somewhat silly post, As you've probably heard before! I do appreciate you sharing these Scenarios...good Fodder!

Janet Swalley

16 Oct 2019

Notarizing a document when a resident of Arizona presents a Washington Driver's License. Do I accept it or not.? Resident was refinancing their home in Arizona

National Notary Association

21 Oct 2019

Hello. Can you tell us if the driver's license was current or not? Arizona Notaries are permitted to accept an unexpired driver license or nonoperating identification license that is issued by a state or territory of the United States as satisfactory evidence of signer identity (ARS 41-311[11][a]).

Mats Wolff

12 Feb 2020

I had no idea that notaries can't get documents verified to be used in a court of law. My brother is starting a business and has many documents that need to be notarized. He is looking for someone that can verify his signatures.

Dakota

12 Mar 2020

I wish to become a notary /signing agent here in Nevada Thank you for the info...I want to learn more!

National Notary Association

12 Mar 2020

Hello. Nevada limits the fees Notaries may charge to the statutory maximum under state law. These fees include an hourly travel fee based upon the time of day traveled. Link: https://www.nationalnotary.org/support/signing-agents/state-restrictions

Sonja

18 May 2020

I had an attorney sign the document before he submitted it electronically to the remote online notary. She made him initial each page of the document. Should she had refused to notarize it and have him reprint and load it?

National Notary Association

20 May 2020

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Payal

19 May 2020

In California, do you notarized Georgia power of attorney. What about jurat?

National Notary Association

20 May 2020

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Payal

26 May 2020

In California, do you notarized Georgia power of attorney. What about jurat?

National Notary Association

27 May 2020

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Shauna Wickes

09 Jun 2020

Are you aloud to notarize in Utah with signers DL in Alabama who just moved here? They need to sell there home and had to sign over power of attorney to there lawyer.

National Notary Association

10 Jun 2020

Hello. A signer in Utah may be identified with valid personal identification with the individual’s photograph, signature, and physical description that the United States government, any state within the United States, or a foreign government issues. (UCA 46-1-2[19][a][i][A]-[B]) However, Utah Notaries may not accept a "driving privilege card" (a card permitting the holder to drive, but that was issued without verifying the bearer's lawful presence in the United States) as proof of identity for a notarization. (UCA 46-1-2[19][c])

Sandy Greenberg

31 Jan 2021

A Notary drafted and stamped my will almost a year ago. I found out today she has shared information with others about the content of my will. What is my recourse?

National Notary Association

01 Feb 2021

Hello. Some state Notary agencies permit signers to file complaints about a Notary's conduct. If you can please tell us what state you are located in, we can let you know if your state has a contact website or email address for Notary complaints.

Rebecca R Richeson

03 May 2021

If someone brings a document that looks like it has been tampered with, should I refuse to notarize?

National Notary Association

05 May 2021

Hello. Article I-A-3 of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility recommends, "The Notary shall refuse to perform a notarial act if the Notary has knowledge, or a reasonable belief which can be articulated, that the transaction or document is unlawful or improper." If you refuse the notarization, it is a good idea to record the details of the situation and the reason for your refusal in your journal so you have a record if the refusal is questioned at a later time.

Catherine M Ostrom

03 May 2021

In California, if the document doesn't have notorial wording, the SIGNER is supposed to chose the type of notorization. Often, they don't have a clue as to which to chose, but that is what is required here.

Christy Hayes

03 May 2021

Do NOT notarize a letter written by someone to be "taken to court". I have seen this one twice in 25 years. Twice someone has attempted to "write a letter" and "give it to someone--who is either a Defendant or the Plaintiff instead of testifying in person for them. It is a delay tactic used by someone who does not want to get involved--but pretends they are supportive. Letters can NOT be cross examined and therefore invalid. No judge will accept a letter notarized or not as testimony.

William T Burke

04 May 2021

These are very good points that I have abided by since 2006. Here's another situation you should avoid if possible... On May3rd, 2021, I got a call from a 30-Ish man that sounded like he was all together, etc., so I went to the point of contact, where I encountered a very different situation than over the phone. Medicine and other bullets arose and his mother as well. If I hadn't had the experience that I had from my youth I would have probably made the biggest mistake in my life. Being able to identify someone who might very well be mentally unstable or otherwise unreliable can be the difference between you and bars. If you are a mobile Notary this is one of the biggest thing to avoid.

Urania Whitaker

05 May 2021

These questions and comments are very helpful. it is so much dos and don't to be mindful of has a notary. I really thank God that I am an NNA member so that when i have questions, I can pickup the phone, call and ask question. one thing i don't want to do is make a huge error in anything in wind up in an orange suite. This stuff make me has of today take 30 minutes of my day to read up on stuff even if I read it before to make sure has a public Notary that I know what I'm doing, and when in doubt, make that phone call with NNA. That's what they are there for!

BAYBEE HUFANA-ABLAN

08 May 2021

A signed and notarized QuitClaim Deed by both parties husband and wife as grantors, quitclaim their property to their children and be the Grantees. They did not bring to Bureau of Conveyance Land Court for recordation. Three months later, Grantor's wife had a heart attacked and passed away. Can the Grantees with the approval of the remaining Grantor (their father) can still bring the signed and notarized Quitclaim Deed to BOC Land Court for Recordation?

National Notary Association

10 May 2021

Hello. We're sorry, but these are legal questions that would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

yenima

04 Aug 2021

hello, question am in California, the question is can I do a letter for a client and then notarize it?

National Notary Assocation

05 Aug 2021

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you provide more details please? What kind of letter is this? Are you named in the letter, or will you need to sign it? Is the client asking you for advice on preparing the letter?

borregob@lanwt.org

05 Oct 2021

How much does a person in Texas charge maybe i should know, i don't charge

National Notary Association

06 Oct 2021

Traditional Notarizations: The maximum fees that a Texas Notary or the Notary’s employer may charge for a notarial act are (GC 406.024[a]): Taking an acknowledgment or proof: $6 for the first signature and $1 for each additional signature; Administering an oath or affirmation, with certificate and seal: $6; Providing a copy of a record or paper kept in the Notary’s office: 50 cents per page; Taking a deposition: $6 for the oath, certificate, seal and other business connected with the deposition, plus 50 cents per 100 words; Protesting for nonacceptance or nonpayment, register and seal, $4; each notice of protest, $1; certificate and seal to a protest, $4; protesting in all other cases, $4. Certificate under seal not otherwise provided for: $6 Performing any other lawful notarial act: $6. Online Notarizations: “An online notary public or the online notary public’s employer may charge a fee in an amount not to exceed $25 for performing an online notarization in addition to any other fees authorized under Section 406.024” (GC 406.111).

Tricia

25 Apr 2022

What a the notary charge in North Carolina per stamp and signature? I heard $5.00 per stamp is there a fee that can be charge for additional signatures?

National Notary Association

28 Apr 2022

North Carolina Notaries are allowed no more than the following fees for notarial acts (GS 10B-31): For acknowledgments, jurats, verifications or proofs: $5 per principal’s signature; For oaths or affirmations without a signature (except when given to a credible witness vouching for the identity of a principal or a subscribing witness): $5 per person. The maximum fee that a North Carolina Notary may charge for electronic notarial acts is $10 per signature for acknowledgments, jurats, verifications or proofs, and oaths or affirmations (GS 10B-118; eNotary website, “Frequently Asked Questions”).

BLC

09 May 2022

These comments are very informative. I am eventually going to have to become a notary in Tennessee for my job however, I’m thinking about going through with it now instead of waiting.

Jennifer

22 May 2022

I passed the CA exam to be a notary. I am SO scared to make a mistake. There are so many fines if I do something wrong. I have E&O insurance and a surety bond, but I still am scared. Is there support groups (in person) to build my confidence? Currently I am a member of NNA.

National Notary Association

26 May 2022

Hello. Yes, there are Notary support and networking groups out there. For tips on finding one in your area, please see this article: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2021/06/a-mobile-notary-s-path-to-building-a-successful-notary-network

Natasha

24 Aug 2022

Is it illegal for a notary to use my contact info from mortgage refi to sell me financial products two years later? Seems like a breach of my personal info that was acquired from the lender.

National Notary Association

06 Sep 2022

We are unable to provide legal advice as to whether or not a law was violated. If you feel that a privacy breach has occurred, you can contact your local police department and also the Federal Trade Commission.

ibydr@yahoo.com

27 Aug 2022

I am a Notary in Texas. I haven’t notarized outside of the company I worked for. I no longer worked for the company but always kept my commission. I will now be a Notary outside of the business I worked for. This bulletin was very helpful.

Terry

28 Oct 2022

Who do I need to contact if I went to work for a notary company and he was sending us out without stamps, also he told us to tell them we were somebody else so the stamp would match and having that person in the office stamp them and I know this is not proper and I want to know how to file a complaint about this on him

National Notary Association

31 Oct 2022

Hello. If you can tell us what state you are located in, we'll provide you with the contact information for your state Notary regulating agency. Also, are you a commissioned Notary? If someone is asking you to act as a Notary without a commission, you should report it to police or other law enforcement agency.

Daniel Lawrence

14 Mar 2023

I really just had one question if your friends with the notary is it legal for that notary to notarize a wheel that there's a half a million dollars involved for the estate

National Notary Association

14 Mar 2023

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Colin Dino

17 Apr 2023

If someone comes to you for notary services and they already signed the document, is it legal for you to ask them to sign again (assuming there is room) in your presence?

National Notary Association

18 Apr 2023

Hello. If the customer is requesting a notarial act that requires signing in your presence (such as a jurat), you will need to ask them to re-sign the document. If they are requesting an acknowledgment, they are not required to sign again in your presence.

Dee Whit

17 Apr 2023

Love this!

johnfc59@aol.com

17 Apr 2023

So far NNA has my 300 dollars and aii I have is a run around. Every time I give them what they ask for it's not enough. How come they ask for more information than is requested on the Notary application for the state I'm applying for. Some thing doesn't appear legit. How do I get my money back?

National Notary Association

18 Apr 2023

Hello. We're sorry if you are having an issue with your Notary application. You can contact our Customer Care team at services@nationalnotary.org regarding your concerns and one of our representatives can assist you.

Jasmine

18 Apr 2023

Im a notary in texas and in the process to become a signing agent. I bought the insurance for the signing agent due i still need to get insurance for the notary part or does it cover both?

National Notary Association

26 Apr 2023

Hello. You would need to contact the company that issued your insurance policy for any coverage information. If you purchased your insurance through the NNA, please contact us here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/contact-us

mattadams2113@protonmail.com

27 Apr 2023

I'm a relatively new notary public I was just commissioned last year and have only a few notarizations under my belt. What is the best practice when asking the signer if they know the type of notarization they are having done and they don't know exactly what they need or say the wrong thing? Is there something I can say to help them determine if its an acknowledgement, jurat, or oath/affirmation without it being considered improper legal advice?

National Notary Association

27 Apr 2023

Hello. You cannot select the type of notarization for the signer. However, please see this articles for suggestions how to proceed when the signer is unclear what notarization they need: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2013/08/what-notarial-act-needed

Kevin A Courtright

31 Jul 2023

I asked a local notary to notarize my retirement paper that my wife and I had to sign and date for beneficiary purposes. My agent / broker was present also. She refused unless she could see all agent 's papers in our file authorizing the paper. We complied even after my agent pointed out the information was confidential. My wife and I consented. She notarized after viewing all our personal papers with my company information and our financial details. She said this was to protect us. I believe she was way out of line. This was just one paper for my company in case I deceased. Your opinion?

National Notary Association

31 Jul 2023

Hello. For more information on different state privacy rules affecting Notaries, please see here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2019/07/avoiding-privacy-breaches-during-and-after-a-notarization

JenFaulkner

09 Aug 2023

My brother had a 'friend' who never completed the necessities to become a comissioned notary. He "notarized 4 houses out of the safety of the trust and 4 TODs (transfer on death deeds) while NOT ever being a notary. Judge BACAL in San Diego deemed these deeds were VALID! Where is the justice? Filed complaint w/D.A, he sent to CA Sec. of State; no results. This fake notary worked at a postal annex and notarized for many people!!

Anita Manuel

23 Oct 2023

Thank you NNA! The more I read these scenarios, the greater my confidence. Being a new notary is scary because the propensity for error is so great. I have had my commission for a while but fear prevented me from diving into the "perceived" cold water! I also found an excellent support group which helps tremendously.

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