Amanda Farrell - 2 years ago
Using a Credible Witness to Verify Identity
Identifying a signer is one of the most important steps in the notarial process. Sometimes a client may need documents notarized but lack a current government-issued photo identification. If the notary doesn’t personally know the client, one option to complete the notarization without ID is to use a credible witness.
What is a credible witness?
A credible witness is someone who is “honest, aware, and impartial” and can identify the signer because they have a personal relationship expanding over a certain period of time. This is a method of verifying identification where the credible witness acts as a “human ID card.” Anyone who is attesting to the identity of the signer must have personal knowledge of the signer.
The credible witness will take an oath or affirmation to vouch for the signer before the notary conducts the notarial ceremony for the client with no ID.
Where can a notary use a credible witness?
Not all states allow credible witnesses as an identification method, and how and when to use it may vary depending on your commissioning state’s rules. The following states permit the use of credible witnesses to complete a notarization under certain circumstances:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
Click on the links above and search for “credible witness” or visit your Secretary of State’s website to determine if credible witnesses are allowed and what is required. If you can’t find information explicitly on credible witnesses, find the rules for satisfactory evidence.
When can a notary use a credible witness?
Like many notarial practices, credible witnesses are to be used only under certain circumstances and not for convenience. Leaving an ID at home or in the car isn’t an adequate reason to use credible witnesses.
In a typical credible witness scenario, the notary must know the credible witness, and the credible witness must know the customer without identification. This will establish a chain of personal knowledge.
An example of when a credible witness can be used includes a scenario where a customer has lost his or her ID and is awaiting a replacement, and other forms of identification, like a passport, are also expired. If your customer is friends with a colleague you’ve known for years, your colleague may serve as a credible witness.
The credible witness must also follow certain requirements, which include:
- Must personally know the signer
- Must be impartial or not benefit from the notarization – avoid spouses or family members even if your state permits it to prevent future issues
- Must be willing to take an oath or affirmation
- Sign their name in the notary’s journal
- May be required to present ID in some cases
For real estate transactions in Florida, California, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia, and Missouri, notaries are permitted to use two credible witnesses that don’t have personal knowledge of the notary but do know the signer.
Basic Steps to Using a Credible Witness
The specifics may vary based on your state. Notaries should always be sure to reference their state statutes and guidelines when performing their duties. Using a credible witness can be tricky, but here are some general rules to know.
- Gather all required parties
- Understand how your state defines satisfactory evidence
- Administer an oath or affirmation to the credible witness
- Complete a journal entry for the credible witness
- Perform notarization for client
- Attach or associate the credible witness form to the document
Gather all parties required
There are usually three to four people involved in the credible witness process:
- The notary
- The credible witness or witnesses
- The customer without current ID
As with a traditional notarization, everyone must appear before the notary to complete the signing. Some states may require two credible witnesses to confirm the identity of the signer. The signer provides the witness or witnesses, not the notary.
Understand how your state defines satisfactory evidence
Before conducting any notarization, notaries must obtain satisfactory evidence regarding the true identity of the signer. Traditionally, personal knowledge was a common method in close-knit communities where business transactions happened locally.
In addition to personal knowledge, states may allow other methods to establish an identity that includes:
- Government-issued IDs
- One credible witness
- Two credible witnesses
California is the only state that doesn’t allow notaries to rely solely on personal knowledge to complete a credible witness signing. In fact, California notaries aren’t allowed to use personal knowledge to identify any signer. In addition to knowing the notary personally, the credible witness must also present a physical form of ID listed in California Code 1185(b)(3) or (4).
In other states like Arizona, Iowa, North Dakota, Oregon, and West Virginia, credible witnesses have the option to present ID to the notary. In Florida and Missouri, the notary may use one personally known credible witness or two credible witnesses not known to the notary with IDs. The credible witness is still required to have personal knowledge of the signer’s identity.
Surprisingly, in Indiana, a signer may take an oath of personal identity.
Administer an oath or affirmation to the credible witness
Oaths and affirmations are two of the most common types of notarial acts and certificates. Both compel a person to tell the truth and carry the same legal weight. The difference is that an oath is sworn to a supreme being while an affirmation is upon the individual’s honor.
Additionally, Florida requires the credible witness to sign a sworn written statement in addition to taking the oath or affirmation. You can find the Credible Witness Affidavits for one witness here and the other for two witnesses here. In Texas, the credible witness is required to “introduce” the signer to the notary and take a verbal oath or affirmation. Other states may have specific credible witness forms or procedures to complete, so be sure to confirm your state’s requirements for verification.
Be sure that the notarial certificate has the proper wording. Some states may require that the notarial certificate indicates the use of the credible witness while others don’t.
Complete a journal entry for the credible witness
Before moving on to the notarization for the client, be sure to record the credible witness’s oath or affirmation in your journal. The entry should indicate that a credible witness was used and have them sign their signature. If required, obtain their ID information as well.
Perform the notarization
After completing the credible witness process, move on to notarizing the customer’s document. Don’t forget to fill out a journal entry for this notarization as well.
Attach or associate the credible witness form to the document
If your state requires a specific credible witness form or affidavit, be sure to attach it to the customer’s document.
These are general steps and should not be considered a comprehensive guide to using credible witnesses. Every state has unique requirements and rules. If you have any questions, reach out to your commissioning authority for more information or consult your state’s Notary Manual.
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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