Amanda Farrell - 2 years ago
Steps to Notarizing a Document
Notaries provide a vital service to their communities. A notarized document holds a greater sense of validity and authority than a document without a notary seal, so specific steps must be taken to protect the public from fraud and the notary from a lawsuit.
If you’re a newly commissioned notary, make sure you understand the process of each notarial act thoroughly before performing one. On the other hand, if you’re a veteran, it never hurts to review the basics.
Steps to Complete a Notarization
Notaries play an essential role in stopping fraud. Each of the following steps is an integral part of the process to protect the public.
- Identify the signer appearing before you
- Review the paperwork
- Enter the notarial act in your journal
- Perform the correct verbal ceremony
- Complete the Notarial Certificate
1. Identify the signer appearing before you
To deter fraud and protect you from getting into trouble, each signer must appear before the notary public. There are three methods of identifying the signer:
- Personally known – notary must be familiar with the signer for an extended period to confirm their identity with absolute certainty.
- Government-issued identification – driver’s licenses or passports are the most common.
- Credible Identifying witnesses – a person who knows the signer and has no financial interest in the notarization vouches for his or her identity. The notary administers an oath to the witness. This method is used when the signer has no valid identification.
Each state has rules about which of these methods can be used, how personally known is defined, and requirements for using a credible witness. For example, in California, notaries aren’t allowed to rely on personal knowledge to identify the signer. In some states, like New Mexico, both the notary and the signer must know the credible witness, or a second witness is required. In others, like Florida, the oath of the witness is recorded in a written affidavit.
The most common method is using a valid government ID to verify the signer’s identity.
2. Review the paperwork
A notarization applies to the entire document, not simply the signature page. So notaries need to take a minute to scan the document for vital information, doing their best not to invade the signer’s privacy. Some reasons to examine the entire document include:
- To find the certificate wording indicating which type of notarial ceremony is required.
- To ensure all the elements to the notarial certificate are present and fix any errors.
- To compare the name of the signer present against the name in the document.
- To review other aspects of the document like the number of pages, property or assets involved, and document date.
- To reduce fraud. Because documents with empty spaces make it easier to manipulate the content later in an attempt to commit fraud, some states explicitly instruct notaries to refuse them. Some county recorders will also reject documents with blanks. Blank spaces, missing pages, and incomplete documents should be resolved before a notary applies his or her seal.
While it may be uncommon, some criminals will attempt to commit fraud by slipping in a document with another individual’s name into a pile of others that are legitimate. What seems like friendly banter may be an attempt to distract the notary from noticing. So it’s essential to review each document for these issues, resolve them before moving forward, or refuse to complete the notarization.
If possible, ask for the document or documents before meeting with your client so you have time to review them before the scheduled signing appointment. Sometimes, the document may be missing the notarial certificate completely. Ask the signer which certificate they would like to attach to the document. If they are unsure, you may describe the different notarial acts and their corresponding certificate and let the signer choose. However, choosing one on the signer’s behalf is considered the unauthorized practice of law.
If the signer still isn’t sure, recommend they contact the company that issued or is receiving the document. Alternatively, the signer may want to consult an attorney for instructions.
3. Enter the notarial act in your journal
The notary process isn’t bulletproof. Sometimes, fraud or discrepancies may still occur even when following each step to the letter. A detailed journal entry with the following information will help protect a notary from accusations of wrongdoing:
- Date and time of notarization
- Type of Notarial Certificate
- The name or brief description of the document
- Location of notarization
- Name and address of the signer
- The method used to identify the signer
- Notary fee
- Signature of the signer
- Notes about the signing event
Some states don’t require a journal for traditional notarizations. Still, it serves as a vital resource to prove your compliance with laws and protect you against lawsuits and criminal prosecution if fraud or discrepancies should arise. Long-time clients will also appreciate your good recordkeeping should they have questions about a previous notarization.
Since you’ll need the signer’s signature, be sure to complete this step before filling out the notarial certificate and stamping the document.
4. Perform the correct verbal ceremony
Many notarial acts require an oral statement by both the notary and the signer. Speaking to the signer and observing his or her demeanor is an important step in determining their lucidity, understanding, and willingness to sign.
Here are some of the questions a notary asks depending on the notarial certificate:
- Acknowledgment: “Do you acknowledge that you understand this document and have signed it willingly for its stated purposes?”
- Oath: “Do you swear under penalty of perjury that the information within this document is the truth, so help you God?”
- Affirmation: “Do you affirm under penalty of perjury that the information within this document is the truth?”
Oaths and affirmations have the same function, so the signer can usually choose which one they prefer. Always perform the verbal ceremony when required. It provides a higher level of professionalism and an additional step to allow signers to consider what is being signed.
5. Complete the Notarial Certificate
The final step is to fill in the information on the notarial certificate and place your stamp on the document:
- Method of identification
- Date of the notarization,
- Venue (state and county)
- The signer’s name
- The notary’s signature and commission expiration date
Remember that the venue is always the place where the notarization took place. During a remote online notarization, the venue is wherever the notary is located.
If you notice any missing or incorrect information, cross it out and initial and date it. Some states are strict on when you can make these corrections. For example, in Florida, notaries can’t correct or amend a certificate once the notarization is complete, even if the signer is still present. Instead, a new certificate must be completed.
Most general notary work takes a few minutes to complete, but it’s important not to rush these steps. Missing one of them could lead to a lawsuit or a critical document being rejected by a recorder. On the other hand, slowing down to make sure the process is done correctly will save both notaries and their clients hassles in the future.
This content is provided for informational purposes only. PropLogix, LLC (PLX) is not a law firm; this content is not intended as legal advice and may not be relied upon as such. PLX makes no representations as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of this content. PLX may reference or incorporate information from third-party sources, upon which a citation or a website URL shall be provided for such source. PLX does not endorse any third party or its products or services. Any comments referencing or responding to this content may be removed in the sole discretion of PLX.
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