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Guiding Principle IV of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020

John Adams, our country’s second president, famously said, “facts are stubborn things.” He meant that we cannot alter the reality of facts no matter how we feel about them.  We may not like that 2 plus 2 always equals 4, but this is and always will be a fact.

A typical notarization involves a set of facts. A signer appears before a Notary on a certain date and at a certain place. The Notary verifies the signer’s identity. The Notary takes the signer’s acknowledgment or oath/affirmation in the document. The Notary watches the signer place their signature on the document.

For the notarial act to be trusted, these facts must be documented in a notarial certificate. Only when a Notary truthfully records the details of the notarization in a certificate do they become stubborn facts. This is the reason for Guiding Principle IV of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020. It reads, “The Notary shall not execute a false or incomplete notarial certificate, nor perform a notarial act with respect to any document or transaction that the Notary believes is false, deceptive, or fraudulent.”

Guiding Principle IV can sound jarring because it is written entirely in the negative (“The Notary shall not…”), whereas the other guiding principles are stated positively (“The Notary shall…”) or both positively and negatively (“The Notary shall… and not…”). The drafters wrote Guiding Principle IV this way intentionally to warn Notaries of the irreparable harm to the integrity of the notarial act if they to fail to properly complete — or are untruthful in completing — a Notary certificate, or perform a notarial act in the wrong way. There would be no stubborn facts. Without stubborn facts a notarization is meaningless, and no one can rely on it.

The Standards of Guiding Principle IV reinforce this. A Notary and no one else may complete a certificate that is required for a notarial act (IV-A-1 and IV-A-2). The certificate must be completed at the time of the notarization in the presence of the signing parties (IV-A-3). A Notary must never complete a certificate with a false statement or date (IV-B-1 and IV-B-2). Notaries must protect the certificate by securing it to a paper document (IV-C-1) or using a tamper-evident technology to secure it to an electronic document (IV-C-3), and not allow anyone else do this for them (IV-C-2).

The remaining standards of Guiding Principle IV relate to the document or transaction itself. As a fraud-deterrent public official, a Notary must never notarize a blank or incomplete document (IV-D-1) nor notarize a signature on a paper or electronic document that is not executed or adopted by the signer (IV-D-2). Above all, a Notary must refuse to perform any notarial act that is illegal, dishonest, deceptive, false, improper, fraudulent, or in violation of law and the Code (IV-E-1 and IV-E-2). Finally, the Code holds that Notaries have a duty to report any illegality to the proper authorities (IV-E-3).

The facts of a notarization are so important because documents requiring notarization often affect personal and property rights of individuals and entities under the law. Taken together, the Standards of Guiding Principle IV are guardrails to ensure that the facts of a notarization can always be trusted to support and uphold these important rights.

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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11 Aug 2020

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12 Aug 2020

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