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Is this Notary request legal or illegal?

State rules for notarization are complicated, and it’s not always easy for Notaries to tell if a customer’s request is OK to perform or a violation of the law. Take our quiz and see if you can spot which of the following requests are legal for Notaries and which ones are not. (Full answers with explanations are below).


ANSWERS:

1. Your boss stops by your desk. “I’m meeting an important customer this weekend and we have a business contract we need to finish,” he says. “Can I borrow your Notary seal so we can wrap this up by Sunday? I’ll return it first thing Monday morning.”

Is this request legal or illegal?

ANSWER: Illegal. No one may use a Notary seal except the commissioned Notary named on the seal. In the wrong hands, a seal could be used to make a fraudulent document appear genuine. Also, many states have rules requiring a seal to be stored in a secure place when you aren’t using it. Failing to secure your seal by letting someone else access it could leave you open to additional legal and financial penalties, or even cost you your commission.

In this case, you should explain to your boss that state law prohibits anyone but you from using your official seal. You could offer to meet the boss and customer to perform the notarization on Sunday or suggest the boss contact another Notary to attend the appointment.

2. A customer wants you to take an acknowledgment on a signed letter. When she hands you the letter, you see there’s a signature on it. “I already signed it to save time,” she says. “I’ve got my ID and everything. Can we just go ahead with the notarization?”

Is this request legal or illegal?

ANSWER: Legal. An acknowledgment requires the signer to appear in person before you to acknowledge signing the letter for its intended purpose and, as the Notary, you to positively identify the signer making the acknowledgment. The signer has the choice of signing the letter before appearing before the Notary or signing it in your presence. Notaries are permitted to take an acknowledgment if the document was signed before the signer appears before you.

3. You are asked to meet a document signer at their home. As you sit down, the signer looks embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I lost my driver’s license last week,” he says. “But I have a photocopy that I made just in case I lost the original. You can accept the copy instead, right?”

Is this request legal or illegal?

ANSWER: Illegal. While state ID rules for verifying the identity of document signers appearing before you for notarizations vary, no state allows signers to present a copy of an ID in place of the original ID. You have no way of knowing if a copy has been altered or changed, or if it in fact is a copy of their lost driver’s license. Furthermore, a copy lacks state-issued security features like raised text or holograms that you can use to check if the ID is genuine.

In this situation, you should postpone notarizing until the signer can provide an acceptable alternate ID or bring one or more credible witnesses who can identify the signer if state law permits it.

4. You are at a nursing home performing a notarization for a senior signer. The signer is agitated and appears uncomfortable. He asks you to explain to him what the document means before he signs it. Once you do so, he is willing to proceed.

Is this request legal or illegal?

ANSWER: Illegal. Notaries who are not qualified attorneys are not allowed to answer legal questions about a document or explain its legal effect to signers. This is known as the unauthorized practice of law, and it is illegal in every state.

In this case, since the signer is reluctant to sign and appears confused about the document’s meaning, you should postpone the notarization until the signer has a chance to ask their attorney to answer their questions.

For more information, please read our articles “4 illegal things Notaries should never do — and why” and “3 risky questions signers ask Notaries — and how to answer them.”

David Thun is the Editorial Manager at the National Notary Association.

View All: Quizzes

22 Comments

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desaikshama1@gmail.com

21 Jan 2024

Thanks -Jan21, 2024, 9:00 pm

Marion Sylvester

05 Feb 2024

I was under the impression that on documents we notarize, it was necessary for us, as notaries, to physically see the signer sign the paperwork.

National Notary Association

05 Feb 2024

Hello. For a jurat, the signer must sign the document in the Notary's presence. For an acknowledgment, the signer may sign the document before bringing the signed document to the Notary to be acknowledged.

Mahasin Beyah

05 Feb 2024

This quiz was very helpful, I am a new notary so this helps me in making the right decision in my role as a notary.

June Robinson

05 Feb 2024

Oh, I misread the questi I n. I thought it smwas saying the signer asked the notary to read the docume t to him. Then, he agreed to sign it. I know we are.not allowed to explain what the document means. Thanks so much for the clarification.

Thomas Garrett

05 Feb 2024

Thank you for this important and vital information!

Monti

05 Feb 2024

I too misread this one. I thought the person wanted the document to be read to him or her, that we can do but by no means explain it to them.

Ann Forman

05 Feb 2024

I agree with June. It didn't state it was a legal document. If it were I would have answered this correctly.

Melissa

05 Feb 2024

.Thanks

Pratima Yadav

05 Feb 2024

Is reading the document by notary same as explaining the document. Might be a silly question but just don’t want to make any mistakes Thanks

National Notary Association

16 Feb 2024

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.

Pamela Simmons

05 Feb 2024

I have had my license for at least a year and found this quiz a welcome refresher. Would appreciate more. Thank You

National Notary Association

06 Feb 2024

Glad you liked the quiz! We have more quizzes coming soon.

Jackie Beverly

05 Feb 2024

Very helpful keep them coming. 😊

Yukita Manuel

06 Feb 2024

I love this but I disagree with #2 I feel document should be signed in front of the notary period.

Sal Gonzalez

07 Feb 2024

I love the creative way to refresh our knowledge as a notaries. Outstanding job. Thank you.

Wilner Michel

07 Feb 2024

no comment

Cassandra Stevenson

07 Feb 2024

I am an attorney, so I answered #4 that the notarization could proceed once the client was aware of the documentation and what it meant.

Shelby

07 Feb 2024

Thanks that was fun and I appreciate the opportunity to test my memory of the rules.

James

12 Feb 2024

This was helpful, thanks.

Kristie

20 Feb 2024

Regarding question #2, can a CA notary notarize a letter? I've never been asked but I'm curious if we're even allowed to do so. Thanks!

National Notary Association

21 Feb 2024

Hello. A California Notary may notarize a signature on a letter provided the requested notarial act is authorized in California and the notarization request meets all requirements of CA law.

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