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Question & Answer Center

Here are some questions that are frequently asked by notaries public. For your convenience, we divided the FAQs into several categories. If an answer to your question is not listed below, please email us at members@usnotaries.com. Our members-only Help Center will research your question and respond within two business days.

Notarial Malpractice: Refusing to Notarize

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  My employer instructed me that I can only provide notary services for the customers of the company. Can I refuse to notarize for the general public?
A notary public is not only a notary for the purposes of his or her employer, but also for the general public. In most states, a notary public is deemed to be “a public servant and an officer of the state.” In some states, notaries are not allowed to refuse notary services to the public. Contact your state’s commissioning authority for further information.
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  When should a notary public refuse to notarize a document?
A notary must refuse a notarization for the following reasons:

• The notary cannot verify the identity of the signer;
• The notary does not have his or her notary seal and notary journal available for the notarization;
• The notary has a beneficial or financial interest in the document;
• The notary is unable to communicate with the signer;
• The notary has knowledge that the transaction is fraudulent;
• The signer did not personally appear before the notary at the time of the notarization;
• The document contains blank spaces;
• The document does not contain a notarial certificate.

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  I refused to notarize a document because the signature line for the signer and the attestation clause were not on the same page. Was I wrong for refusing to notarize this document on that basis?
You could have added the details of the document after the notarial certificate to show that the certificate was an integral part of the document. For example: “This notarial certificate is part of a 3-page deed dated July 4, 2005, regarding property at 999 John Doe Street, City, and State, which was signed by Jane Doe and acknowledged before me on September 6, 2005.
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  I refused to notarize a document that had multiple changes and whiteouts because I was afraid to affix my name and seal to this mess. Was I right?
A notary public is not responsible for the content of the document. When a document has been altered, the signer must initial any and all changes or corrections. The duties and responsibilities of a notary public are restricted only to the execution of proper notarial procedures.
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  A notary refused to notarize my Last Testament and Will because she stated that she does not notarize legal documents. Can she refuse to notarize legal documents?
In some states, notaries are not permitted to refuse notary services to the general public. A notary public is deemed to be a public servant and an officer of the state with a duty imposed upon him or her to provide notary services to the public.
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  Can a notary public refuse to notarize for inmates in a state prison institution?
Notaries public and incarcerated individuals are subject to the policies of the prison system. There are federal and state statutes that provide inmates a substitute for the notarization of their documents by the use of an unsworn declaration under penalty of perjury. Since incarcerated individuals are no longer members of the general public, there is not a duty imposed upon a notary public to provide notary services.
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  A customer brought me a document to notarize. It had already been signed by another principal signer. When the customer started making some changes, I refused to notarize his document. Was I correct?
Yes, you were correct. Under no circumstances should a notary public knowingly allow any revisions to be made on a document that has already been notarized. Such changes could alter the intent of the document and could adversely affect the signers who have already signed the document.
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  Can a notary refuse to notarize a document that he or she cannot understand?
A notary public is not responsible for the content of the document. The duties and responsibilities of a notary public are restricted only to the execution of proper notarial procedures.
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  Can I refuse to notarize after hours or on weekends or holidays?
Yes. However, the notary laws in most states dictate that notaries may not refuse to provide notarial services during business hours unless there is good basis to decline the notarization.
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