Amanda Farrell - 7 months ago
3 Questions a Notary Should Never Answer
It’s natural for signers to have questions or second thoughts when executing important legal or business documents. However, as a notary, it’s vital that you stay impartial, professional, and, unless you are an attorney, avoid answering questions that could be construed as unlawful practice as law.
Offering legal advice or opinions is one of the many ways a notary can get into trouble. Even seasoned notaries who may have the insight to answer the question simply can’t. Doing so could lead to fines and losing your commission.
Here are three questions that you should never answer as a notary and how to provide guidance that won’t jeopardize your business.
1. What notarial certificate should I use?
Answering this question is considered unlawful legal advice, and notaries aren’t allowed to answer it. Most clients won’t know there are different types of notarial certificates. They simply know they need a document notarized. Unfortunately, if the proper wording is absent or no certificate is attached to the document, notaries must ask which type of certificate the client wants.
You may tell the client details of a jurat, acknowledgment, or other notarial act, but never suggest or recommend one. If they are still unsure which to choose after describing each, recommend they reach out to the person who prepared the documents or an attorney for instructions.
2. What documents do I need for this transaction?
Like the first question, answering this question is a form of providing legal advice. The signer may be clueless on how to complete the document requiring notarization. If a notary is asked what information needs to be filled in or for help in preparing a document, politely explain that it’s not within your authority or conflict of interest to do so.
Depending on your state, violating this restriction can result in civil or criminal penalties. Instead, recommend the client reach out to an attorney for help. You can also provide a list of attorneys in the area capable of executing or explaining the documents.
Additionally, notaries are advised to avoid any activity that could be seen as a conflict of interest. Drafting, preparing, or reviewing any document on behalf of an employer, company, or client for a fee that you will later notarize is seen as a gray area to avoid. While statutes don’t explicitly prohibit it, your perceived impartiality will be diminished.
3. Is this a good home loan?
Notary signing agents or loan signing agents work with title companies and real estate attorneys to complete a real estate transaction. Borrowers, especially first-time homebuyers, may have many questions about the documents at the signing. They may even ask for your opinion on their interest rate, ask you about closing costs, or express doubts about going through with the transaction.
The final costs listed in the Closing Disclosure can be a shock, and the calculations can be complex. Trying to explain the prorations of property taxes or the amortization table of interest is tricky. As an impartial party, you should not attempt to explain, interpret, or give any advice about the fees and costs listed in a loan package. Interest rates can vary from one borrower to the next, so if the signer is having second thoughts and looking to you to sway them one way or another, don’t offer an opinion. If the borrower needs help finding information like their interest rate, you can point out the appropriate section.
When asked to give your opinion on any aspect of a home loan, politely decline. Instead, recommend that the borrower speaks to the lender or title company for an explanation.
If the signer cancels the deal because of any doubt raised from the advice you give, it could result in a financial penalty for the borrower. It could also end your professional relationships with the lender and title company.
Tips to alleviate frustrated clients
Sometimes clients may not be aware of the limitations placed on a notary, so, if possible, before scheduling a meeting, clearly describe the scope of your duties and authority. Provide them with a list of actions they need to take and professionals who can help them to ensure everything is in order with their documents beforehand. In the case of loan signings, there may not be an opportunity to touch base with the client before the appointment. Be sure to bring the contact information of the professionals involved in the closing if the client wants to reach out to them.
Remote online notarization (RON) platforms like ProperSign also offer notaries and other professionals the opportunity to help clients review and execute documents without leaving home or the office. Becoming a remote online notary will expand your notary business well beyond your typical driving range as a mobile notary. If you work in a state that allows for RON, consider getting certified.
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