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WWYD Answers: The Case of the Absent Friend

Last week, we shared a real-life dilemma where a Notary was asked to notarize a close friend’s document — but the friend said they were out of town and couldn’t be present for the notarization, and asked the Notary to proceed anyway as a personal favor.

We asked our readers how they would handle this kind of request, and here are some of the solutions you offered.

What our Notaries said

Many Notaries immediately raised concerns about breaking the law and the potential risk of fraud if they agreed to notarize without the signer being present — even if the signer is someone they know well.

Lucy Rodriguez pointed out that notarization requires the personal appearance of the signer, and notarizing without the signer present would be a violation of state law. “Why would I want to compromise my integrity over a blatant disregard for the laws and standards of my professional ethics?” she asked.

“I would politely decline,” said Gwendolyn Green. “I would also point out that while I have complete trust in them, it is for their protection that they appear before me in person, and to do otherwise would be breaking the law.”

Patty Greenwood agreed. “As much as I value my friendships, I value my reputation and credibility more,” she said. “I would explain why I could not do as they requested, and hope they understood. In reality though, friends close enough to ask for such a favor also know me well enough not to.”

Doris Laul suggested postponing the notarization until the friend could return and appear before the Notary, or directing the friend to contact a Notary in their present location to complete the notarization if the document was time sensitive. “No friend of mine would ask me to put my credibility and reputation on the line with such a request. In the unlikely event one did ask, I would have to politely decline,” she said. 

Other Notaries suggested that if the friend urgently needed a Notary and couldn’t meet one in person, they should see if they could contact a Notary authorized to perform a Remote Online Notarization (RON).

“Since I’m RON approved, I would tell them about online notarizations. If they have access to a computer with a webcam and microphone, a non-expired ID and a credit card to pay the fee, I would set them up on one of my platforms and notarize the documents that way,” said Shavahn Erby. “Otherwise, they will be waiting until they are back in front of me to sign.”

Guidance from the NNA

Ignoring the personal appearance requirement for signers during a notarization puts the document at grave risk of fraud, and leaves the Notary potentially liable for a lawsuit or other penalties for failing to follow proper procedure. Sadly, while many Notaries assume that a close friend or family member wouldn’t try to trick them into enabling fraud, there are documented cases where Notaries ignored proper procedure and notarized without a trusted signer’s presence as a “favor,” only to find out later that they had been tricked.

You should never ignore this most important step of a notarization — even for someone close to you that you know well. As several of our readers suggested, if the notarization was required urgently, the signer could have been directed to contact a Notary at their location or contacted a Notary who could perform a remote online notarization for the document. And, as more than one pointed out, if the friend is close to you, then undoubtedly you have talked with them about what you do as a Notary and they wouldn’t ask you to violate your conscience or the law.

Unfortunately, the Florida Notary in this real-life situation made an unwise choice. The Notary called the NNA’s Notary Hotline after agreeing to notarize the document without the friend present. The friend promised the Notary to visit the next day to sign the Notary’s journal — but hasn’t shown up yet, even after the Notary called the friend several times. In this case, the Notary could have avoided a lot of stress and potential negative consequences by sticking to proper procedure.

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


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