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Notary Bulletin

Guiding Principle III Of The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility Of 2020

The heart and soul of notarization is addressed by Guiding Principle III of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020, which reads, “The Notary shall require the appearance of each principal and witness identifying a principal, if any, in order to screen each for identity, willingness, and mental competence.” Without this important Principle from the Code, you no longer have a professional code of conduct for Notaries and what is distinctive about the notarial act disappears. Guiding Principle III addresses the very essence of notarization.

A lot has transpired since the previous version of the Code was first published in 1998.  New technologies have appeared to make notarizations easier to perform. Remote online notarization (RON) is one of them and the new Code Standard III-A-2 was created to reflect its growing adoption throughout the country. The interesting thing is that the new technologies for electronic and remote online notarization rely on the very standards of Guiding Principle III to ensure the notarization is credible and trustworthy.  Though the tools for notarization may change, the fundamentals for performing notarizations do not. In fact, while the Articles and Standards within Guiding Principle III were reorganized within the 2020 Code to enhance readability, the wording of Guiding Principle III itself and several standards were carried over from the 1998 Code without substantive change.

At the same time, the laws and practices surrounding notarization have evolved over the two decades since the 1998 Code was published and Guiding Principle III reflects this. The new standard on remote online notarization and its emphasis reflecting the change of the law in many states that an “appearance” before a Notary is always personal even if it is not always physical is one of them. Another is a new standard that defines personal knowledge (III-B-2) and a third that urges Notaries to exercise a high degree of care in identifying signers (III-B-1). A new Article D calls on Notaries to make reasonable accommodations to perform notarial acts for principals with physical disabilities. New illustrations drawn from situations that confront Notaries practicing in 2020 apply the timeless truths of the Standards.

When a “principal” — the term used in the Code to refer to an individual whose signature is notarized or for whom a notarization is performed — comes to sign a document, Guiding Principle III emphasizes Notaries must meet with the individual in person to have confidence that they are who they purport to be (Standard III-B-1). There must be coherent and direct communication between the Notary and principal (Standards III-C-3 and III-C-4) so the Notary can have a credible belief that the principal wants to sign their document (Standard III-C-1) and knows what is going on when they sign it (Standard III-C-2). This is notarization in a nutshell. Without it, a title underwriter won’t issue a title policy for a property, a lender won’t lend the funds for a mortgage loan, a hospital won’t respect the wishes of a patient regarding their medical care, a court won’t finalize an adoption, and a decedent’s estate will not be passed to the rightful heirs.

Bill Anderson is the NNA’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Drafting Coordinator for The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020.


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08 Jul 2020

Vermont has passed RULONA. As I read it, identity screening is required for verifications, but not for other oaths/affirmations, such as oaths administered to tell the truth during oral testimony, or oaths of office. Inability to administer an oath to a person without ID credentials may create a chicken-and-egg problem, where a person cannot get an ID because the person has to take an oath to get the ID.

Sandra R. Jefferson

13 Jul 2020

How can I purchase this Book?

National Notary Association

14 Jul 2020

Hello. The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility is available online at no charge here:

Cheryl Kaster

13 Jul 2020

It's too bad a large majority of Notaries do not know or care to educate themselves about the requirements for this deceptively complex process.

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