Frequency Asked Question

According to the National Notary Association, a notary public is a public servant appointed by state government to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.

You may need a notary to certify that the signatures on documents such as deeds, transfers of sale, mortgages, and other contracts are legitimate and, therefore, legally binding.

A notary public notarizes any document in which an originator needs to ensure the integrity of the signer. A notary public verifies the identity of the signer, and that they are signing knowingly and willingly. This process helps deter the fraudulent execution of documents.

AA notary will ask a signer for a document such as a driver’s license or government-issued identification card that includes a photograph, signature and some information describing the person. You can find a full list of required identification verification documents here.

When speaking with the client before the appointment, don’t just ask “Do you have ID?” because the client might not know what kind of ID is required. Make sure you also check the following:

  • Ask the client to describe the type of ID (for example, “I have a California driver’s license.” or “I’m using a U.S. passport.”) to confirm that you can accept it as proof of identity.
  • Check if the ID is current or expired, and if expired for how long. Some states do not permit Notaries to accept expired IDs, but others allow IDs that have expired within a certain timeframe.
  • If there’s a problem with the signer’s ID, find out if they have any other type of acceptable identification. Otherwise they will need to bring one or more credible identifying witnesses to the appointment (if this option is permitted in your state).

ATo give an oath, the person must sign in the presence of the notary. For other documents, the person must sign the document or acknowledge their signature in person. This also applies to performing e-notarization (electronic notarial) acts.

ANo, a notary public can only witness the signing of the documents, not assist or prepare any documents. To assist or prepare documents would be an unlawful practice of law. This keeps the notary’s position as an impartial witness to the signing.

A notary public may refuse to perform a notarization if he or she cannot be certain of a prospective signer’s identity, willingness, or understanding of what is happening at that moment. In addition, a notary may not notarize a document in which he or she has a financial interest.

If more than one person will need their signature notarized, or if a signer needs to be identified by credible witnesses, confirm that everyone required for the notarization will be present at the appointment.

If multiple documents require notarization, check to be sure the client will have all documents present and ready when you arrive.

Be aware that many states prohibit notarizing a document that is incomplete or contains blank spaces — including documents missing pages.

3 Questions Signers Should Never Ask Notaries

A frequent request from signers lacking proper identification — and one you should never accept — is asking a Notary to skip the identification process and notarize without it.  As a Notary, you must always follow state Notary laws when identifying a signer. In some states, a signer who lacks identification can be identified through alternative methods, such as credible identifying witnesses. But if a signer asks you to notarize without being identified, always say ‘no.’

Many documents you are asked to notarize are time-sensitive, especially real estate documents. Sometimes a Notary will be asked to back-date or post-date the date the notarization took place. Doing so is against the law in every state. Never falsify the date a notarization takes place on a notarial certificate — doing so is illegal and could lead to serious civil and criminal penalties against you.

Many Notaries have lost their commissions and faced costly lawsuits by saying ‘yes’ to this question. If the person who made the signature is not present for the notarization, there is no way for you to tell if the signature was made willingly — or even if the signature was genuine!

Never accept a request to notarize an absent person’s signature without the signer being present — even if the person asking you is a spouse, relative or friend. There have been cases where a trusted family member or colleague has convinced a Notary to do so, only for the Notary to find out later that the person making the request was committing fraud. And once that happens, the Notary faces serious potential legal penalties and liability for negligence.

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