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Announcing The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility Of 2020

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The Notary Code of Professional Responsibility has provided ethical guidance to Notaries for more than two decades. This year, the NNA is proud to announce the new, updated Code of 2020.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What Is The Code?
  • Why The Code Needed Updating
  • What’s New In The 2020 Code?
  • How The New Code Helps Notaries
  • How The Code Helps State Notary Lawmakers

What Is The Code?

Many occupations pose professional norms for their practitioners. Attorneys, engineers, physicians, accountants, journalists and many other professionals are governed by codes of conduct. It is only fitting that Notaries, who are one of the oldest professions, should have their own code. The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility promotes recognized standards of professional practice for Notaries of the United States to follow in performing notarial acts.

The Code is divided into 10 widely accepted “Guiding Principles” that address the key facets of a Notary’s duties and responsibilities and provide general rules for responsible conduct. Each Guiding Principle in turn is divided into Articles that identify broader practice areas applicable to each Principle. The 91 individual Standards of Professional Practice address specific issues related to the Guiding Principle. Each Standard is exemplified by an illustration that poses a typical situation a Notary might encounter in applying the Standard along with the recommended Resolution to the scenario. Finally, a legal Commentary written by co-reporters Michael Closen and Malcolm Morris discusses the drafters’ views on various matters related to each Standard.

Why The Code Needed Updating

There were many reasons why the NNA decided to revise the Code. Over the past two decades many states thoroughly updated or even replaced their Notary statutes. New forms of identity theft and document fraud surfaced. And, during this time, the Notary profession benefited from numerous books and articles written on notarial procedure that significantly expanded the available literature on notarial issues. The Code needed to keep pace with these developments.

But perhaps the most significant development has been the adoption of electronic signatures, documents and notarizations. Twenty years ago, most Notaries were entirely focused on traditional notarizations where the signer appeared physically before the Notary with paper documents and signed with handwritten, pen-and-ink signatures. But the adoption and demand for electronic transactions is rapidly catching on, and Notaries must be prepared to perform notarizations involving electronic documents and signatures now more than ever before.

Even the requirement for physical appearance by the signer before a Notary has changed. Thanks to the enactment of remote online notarization laws in more than 20 states, many Notaries now have the option to notarize while the signer is in a different state or even another country. This is unfamiliar territory for many Notaries, and the NNA deemed it critical to address these developments in the 2020 Code.

What’s New In The 2020 Code?

Because there have been so many changes in the Notary world since the original Code was published, the time seemed right for a comprehensive review and update of its original Standards. Many of the updates were intended to make the Code easier to understand for the Notary on the street. Here are some important changes:

The 2020 Code defines important terms commonly used by Notaries such as “acknowledgment,” “jurat,” “notarial certificate” and other words and phrases associated with notarizations. For example, because many states now authorize eNotarizations, the new Code now defines a “document” as either a paper or electronic writing.

While the basic structure of the original Code was retained, much of the 2020 version has been edited to make its various Articles, Standards and Illustrations shorter and easier to read.

In the original Code the outcome of the Illustration for each Standards was titled either as an “Ethical Imperative” or “Professional Choice.” Both these terms have been replaced with the simpler “Resolution” to emphasize that Notaries should follow all Code standards.

New Standards have been added that weren’t included in the original Code. One new Standard (Standard II-A-3) provides that accepting gifts, gratuities or donations relating to the performance of notarizations is a conflict of interest.

The Code clarifies that Notaries may be compensated for incidental expenses associated with the notarial fee such as travel, postage and even costs to operate an electronic notarization technology solution, if applicable.

How The New Code Helps Notaries

New Notaries often assume that once they receive their commissions, any questions they have can be answered in their state’s Notary statutes. All too often, they find out they’re mistaken. The Code provides standards you can follow in exercising your duties when your Notary statutes don’t provide rules

“I think the Code is important, particularly for Notaries like myself,” said New York Notary David Helman, who served on the 2020 Code’s Revision Committee. “New York Notary laws are scattered, not in one codified section, and there are many issues state law does not address.

For example, Helman said, New York Notary law does not address specific requirements for identifying signers, keeping a journal, or even using a Notary seal. So he follows the Standards in the Code for these practices.

“Having a professional Code to fall back on allows me to make sure I’m not only doing a good job ethically but serving the best interests of signers and protecting myself and my company from avoidable errors and liability,” he said. “It’s a great aid to have a guide to all forms of Notary conduct in one document.”

How The Code Helps State Notary Lawmakers

While the Code is written primarily for the benefit of Notaries, it also is a valuable tool to guide state lawmakers when drafting new Notary laws. And while not every state recognizes the Standards set out by the Code, several Standards in the original Code have been incorporated into many states’ Notary laws. For example, many jurisdictions — such as California, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — require Notaries to keep records of their notarial acts. Properly kept records have been shown to protect the parties to the notarization and Notaries from accusations of negligence that can lead to costly lawsuits.

“When we revised North Carolina’s Notary laws in 2005, our lawmakers drew from the standards and practices in the Code,” North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said. “The Code provides a good example for states when they need to make their laws more robust.”

“I think the Code has been a good resource for Notary ethics over the years,” said Lori Hamm, Notary Program Specialist with the Montana Secretary of State’s office. “As a state administrator, our focus is on ensuring the credibility and integrity of the notarial act for the public. It’s not just important for Notaries to know how to do things, but why it’s important to do them ethically.”

The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020 is available to the public at no cost from the National Notary Association.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

10 Comments

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Katherine A. Politte

20 Jan 2020

NNA has assisted me many times.

Johnny Bankston

20 Jan 2020

Good

James

20 Jan 2020

Excellent article. Reminds me that I need to read the new 2020 version in the code to be fully updated on notary best practices.

Johnny B Bankston

20 Jan 2020

Great

Carmen Francis

20 Jan 2020

Recently needed a Notary, other than myself, to Notarize a Power of Attorney. The bank Notary refused to notarize because the document said "being of sound mind", they informed me they were not physicians and would not notarize the document. What is protocol here and the solution? Thanks for your response in advance.

National Notary Association

22 Jan 2020

Hello. It would depend on whether the Notary was being asked to directly certify if someone involved in the document was of sound mind or not. If simply being asked to notarize a signature, the Notary should observe whether the signer appears willing and aware during the notarization and only proceed if the signer appears willing or aware. However, a Notary is not authorized to officially certify a person's mental state as a notarial act; Notaries are not healthcare professionals qualified to make an official medical assessment.

Michael Charles Meegan

20 Jan 2020

hOW DO WE GET A COPY, PRICE, ORDER?

National Notary Association

22 Jan 2020

Hello. The Code is available to the public at no cost here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/knowledge-center/reference-library/notary-public-code-of-professional-responsibility

Abigail Glynn

22 Jan 2020

I think it is wonderful that The Code is concerned about keeping Notary Publics in a very legal position. It makes the notarization of documents mean something. Thank you so very much for caring to such depth.

Judith E. Miller

23 Jan 2020

I am a new Notary, and I found this information very helpful.

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