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Minimize Your Liability

While E&O Insurance is vital protection for the Notary against unintentional mistakes or baseless allegations of impropriety and the Notary Surety Bond is vital protection for the public against any misconduct by the Notary, the likelihood that either will have to be drawn upon can be minimized by the Notary's adherence to these widely acknowledged notarial best practices.

Notarize only for signers who are present:

The conscientious Notary will make sure that a signer requesting a notarial act is always present at the time of notarization. No exceptions. In fact, a Notary can reduce his or her potential liability considerably simply by always following this cardinal rule of notarization. Notaries are sued and have their commissions revoked more for a failure to require personal appearance than for any other violation.

Don’t notarize documents with blank spaces:

Documents should be entirely complete prior to notarization. A blank line for an interest rate or loan amount in a document is an invitation for fraud. By making sure the blank is filled in at the time you notarize, you will protect both the signer and the transaction. This can avert legal action later.

Several states now have provisions in statute prohibiting the notarization of any document with blanks, so you would do well to avoid the practice.


Never pressure a person to sign:

The principal’s signature before a Notary must be a voluntarily act. If the signer was pressured or coerced to sign – by others in the room or by the Notary – it could cause the document and underlying transaction to be discredited or invalidated, resulting in a potential legal action.

This is why before you notarize you must ensure that the signer intends to sign the document willingly and that the signer understands what he or she is signing. This will protect all parties to the document – and you, the Notary – from allegations of duress.


Know or identify your signer:

The main purpose of notarization is to positively identify the signature in your presence and to administer oath and affirmations to signers who swear or affirm the truthfulness of statements in a document. Many lawsuits against Notaries involve forgeries that a Notary can prevent by rigorously following all laws and best practices for identifying signers.

Personal knowledge of the signer, the sworn vouching of one or two credible identifying witnesses or reliance upon a reliable and current identification document as prescribed by state law are typically the methods by which a Notary may identify a signer in most states. Check your state statutes for specific identification rules.


Don’t give advice:

Notaries can avoid claims and lawsuits by recognizing the limits of their authority. A Notary commission does not provide authority to give legal advice, draft documents or select the type of document or notarization for a client. Providing unauthorized legal services not only can get you into trouble with your commissioning official; it can provide a basis for legal action if the legal advice you provide is the wrong advice and the signer is financially harmed by it.

A Notary should never engage in activities that constitute the practice of law unless the Notary is a licensed attorney or a professional duly trained or certified in a particular field – and then only within the strict limits of the Notary’s field of training or certification.


Keep a journal:

Recording each notarial act in a journal is an important protection for the Notary against liability. The journal can provide evidence of a Notary’s reasonable care in performing a notarial act and can establish the Notary’s regular practice of following proper procedures over the course of many notarizations. Furthermore, the journal entry can prove beneficial if the Notary is ever asked to complete a statement for an insurer investigating a claim against the Notary or testify in court about a notarial act he or she performed months or years earlier. Without the journal record of the notarization in question, the Notary would be hard pressed to remember any significant details about the notarization.

Requiring a document signer to leave a signature and even a thumbprint in the Notary’s journal can avert a fraud in the making or discourage signers with second thoughts about following through with the transaction from doing so.


Maintain your impartiality:

By definition, a Notary is an unbiased official witness who is personally or professionally unaffected by the document. In legal disputes signers and attorneys may attempt to discredit a document on the grounds that the Notary had a financial or beneficial interest in the transaction.

For this reason, never notarize your own signature or a document in which you are personally named. If you will receive a direct benefit, fee, commission or advantage other than the fee allowed by state law, you also should not notarize. Similarly, if you stand to suffer a direct financial loss from a transaction, you should not notarize.

Notaries also should refuse to notarize for close family members because a Notary’s impartiality can be questioned in these circumstances as well.


Watch your commission expiration date:

It is important that you notarize with a valid commission. If your commission expires and you fail to realize it, any document you notarize after the expiration date could be invalidated.

Legal actions can arise over any imperfection in a signed and notarized document and attorneys often seek to disprove the legitimacy of documents on a technicality. A notarization performed after the date of the Notary’s commission expiration is such a technicality.

In many states, the Notary’s commission expiration date appears in the Notary’s official seal. You should make a mental note of this date whenever you notarize documents. You can also put your commission expiration date in the front of your journal as a reminder.


Complete certificates carefully and completely:

The public relies upon the facts attested by a Notary in every certificate of acknowledgment or jurat the Notary signs and seals. The facts include a description of the venue (location) where the notarization was performed, the name of the signer appearing before the Notary, the date of notarization, the means by which the signer was identified and whether the signer acknowledged the signature voluntary for the purposes expressed in the document or vouched under oath or affirmation that the statements in the document were true.

If a date is incorrect or a signer is named in the certificate who didn’t actually appear before the Notary, it could be reason to question the document.

Make sure that you enter the correct county and state, name of the signer and date of notarization. If the name of any signer not present for the notarization is included in the certificate, be sure to cross it out.


Protect “loose” certificates:

Sometimes you must add an acknowledgment or jurat certificate to a document that does not contain a preprinted certificate or has insufficient wording. Documents that contain a preprinted acknowledgment or jurat on the same page as the principal’s signature have a built-in protection against fraud because the certificate can never be used with another document.

Since you are adding your certificate as an additional page to the document, you should always staple the certificate to the signature page so to deter its use on an unintended document..

Furthermore, you should never give or mail a signed and sealed loose certificate to another individual and trust that person to staple it to the intended document.


Don’t let anyone use your seal:

In the right hands, a Notary seal on a document authenticates the notarial act and permits the document to be immediately received as evidence in a court of law. In the wrong hands, a Notary seal can be used to perpetrate a fraudulent act that can land the rightful owner back into court to answer for the fraudulent use of the seal.

This is why every Notary must protect the official seal, keeping it in a locked and secure area when not in use. Keeping the seal locked up will prevent an unauthorized individual from using the seal to perform fraudulent acts. You can keep your seal in a locked attaché or desk drawer, provided you alone have access.

"Just say no" to any person who asks to “borrow” your seal. The seal has your name on it and only you as the commissioned Notary may use it.


Obtain insurance for high-value transactions:

Every notarization is an important transaction, from the parental permission slip to the living trust document. Some potentially involve great sums of money that may expose the Notary to significant financial loss if something goes wrong. However, you won’t always know what your potential exposure is with any one document that you notarize.

The best protection against your liability risk is to follow the law and best practices when notarizing. Despite your best intentions, you may make a mistake. That’s why there is E&O Insurance to protect your personal assets. Following best practices during the notarization will help protect you, while E&O insurance will protect you after the notarization is completed.


checkmarkPurchase Errors and Omissions Insurance from the NNA

checkmarkPurchase a complete Notary Supply Package to become a Notary Public or to renew your Notary commission.

checkmarkAttend NNA training to increase your Notary knowledge