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Steps to Proper Notarization

Expert Panel Answers Your Notary Questions

Most of the time states’ notary laws do a great job of answering notaries’ questions. However, there are times when the answers may be unclear. Getting input from other notaries with years of experience and knowledge can be helpful to clarify thinking and to develop problem-solving techniques. With that in mind, the American Association of Notaries (AAN) requested feedback from four experienced notaries. We hope that readers will benefit from seeing how the experts would respond in certain situations.

Meet the Expert Panel

Lisa Thornton, California – Lisa’s website is LKThorntonNotaryPublic.com. She has been a notary public since 2007 and Lisa also holds a real estate license. She is both a mobile notary and a notary signing agent. Her ethics are impeccable.

Robert Koehler, Florida – Robert’s website is NotaryWeddings.com. He is also a legal assistant and he is often called as an expert to testify in court or to consult on legal matters that relate to notaries. Robert is a mobile notary and he also performs notary weddings in the State of Florida where notaries are able to perform those ceremonies.

Alex Yvonnou, Michigan – Alex’s website is DetroitSigningAgent.com. Alex has been a Michigan notary for ten years; he is a full-time notary signing agent. Alex is also a writer. His blog for notaries is a “must read.”

Brenda Stone, Texas – Brenda’s website is TexasNotaryPublisher.com . She has been a Texas notary since the mid 80’s and has seven years of experience as a notary signing agent.

Please note that if you would like to join this group, we would like to hear from you. At the bottom of this article, there will be more information about becoming part of our expert panel.

QUESTIONS FROM OUR READERS:

Can this board member notarize corporate documents?

QUESTION: As a member on the board of directors of ae non-profit homeowners association can I notarize documents for the association? This would be, of course, if I am not also signing the document. I do not receive compensation for being a board member.

Robert Koehler, Florida: Even though you don’t have a financial interest, you still might have a beneficial interest in the document. For example, if the Board of Director decided to enter into an agreement with a lawn care company to improve the landscaping in the neighborhood – which would include your home – you would ultimately benefit from the document, and therefore you could not notarize it.

Brenda Stone, Texas: I am certainly not a lawyer, so the following is a layman’s opinion. Section 121.002 of the Texas Code of Civil Procedure may mean that this would not be a problem. In my personal experience, however, members and board members of homeowners associations can create controversy over very small matters. My choice would be to get a disinterested notary involved and avoid a future headache.

Lisa Thornton, California: Yes, you can notarize documents for the association as long as you are not named in the document or have a financial interest in the transaction. (See 2012 CA Handbook, Page 10; Gov't Code 8224.) However, my opinion is that to avoid the appearance of impropriety, it is best to have association document signatures notarized by an outside notary - one who is not a board member.

What happens when only one signer shows up and the certificate mentions two?

QUESTION: I have a document that requires two different people to sign but only one notary certificate is attached. It has both of their names on it. How do I handle this when the parties will be here at different times? In other words one person will come in at one time to sign, and the other person will come at a later time.

AAN: The answer to this question is universal and will be the same for all states. A notary may not notarize for a person who is not present. Suppose Sally presents a document that both she and Debbie will sign. Also suppose that the notary certificate states that Sally and Debbie both appeared before the notary, but only Sally is with notary at the time the notarization is requested.

There are two ways to handle this. (1) The notary may make a line through Debbie’s name, initial it, and complete the notarization for only Sally; or (2) The notary may attach a blank certificate and complete it with only Sally’s name.

This answer applies even if the parties mentioned in the document are coming on the same day, but appearing at different times.

Documents in Foreign Languages

QUESTION: May I notarize a document that is in Portuguese if the signer is fluent in that language? Can the notary certificate be in Portuguese? If not, how do I know what certificate to attach?

Lisa Thornton, California - The document can be in any language since the notary is not responsible for the contents of the documents. According to the 2012 California Notary Handbook, the notary and the signer must be able to communicate. The notary certificate must be in English. If there is no notarial certificate within or attached to the document, the notary asks the signer whether they'd like a jurat or acknowledgment.

Alex Yvonnou , Michigan – One thing that notaries must remember is that we notarize signatures, not documents. A notary's duty is to identify the signer in person and witness or verify the signature. The content of the document is irrelevant as is the language of the document. The notary has no responsibility to understand the document. There is nothing in the Michigan Statutes that indicates that a document must be in English. As far as what certificate to attach, it is not up to us to decide. It is up to the signer. Explain the difference between an acknowledgment and a jurat and ask them to decide which one they want. It is usually clear as to whether or not the signer is swearing to the truthfulness of a document (jurat), or merely needs to show that they appeared before you and had their signature verified (acknowledgement).

Regarding the question as to whether or not the certificate can be in another language, that might be a little more state specific. The Michigan statute says that the certificate must be sufficiently clear and legible to be read by the secretary of state. Thought it doesn’t specially say it, I think that makes it pretty clear that it must be in English.

Brenda Stone, Texas - Notaries may notarize documents in foreign languages as long as the notary and the signer can communicate, and the signer is able to read and comprehend the contents of the document.

According to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, there is no state requirement that a notarial certificate be in English. However, the certificate must be in a language that the notary understands and can read because the notary must make sure that the statements in the certificate are an accurate representation of the notarization performed.

If there is no certificate attached, the signer must decide which certificate he or she wants the notary to attach.

Witness Question

QUESTION: Suppose I am notarizing a document (not a will) that requires two witnesses. Is it acceptable to use a member of the signer's family?

Alex Yvonnou , Michigan – A witness must be a third party with no interest in the transaction. I’m not an attorney, so I don’t profess to know what some states may allow. However, even if your state allows disinterested family members to act as witnesses, could you ever be 100% confident that the family member has no interest whatsoever? Just because it may be legal, doesn’t make it prudent. Even the slightest appearance of impropriety could draw a notary and witnesses into a conflict or lawsuit. Using a family member as a witness could certainly seem improper to some. I wouldn’t allow the use of a family member as a witness. When it comes to any kind of possible conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety, my belief is if you’re even the slightest bit unsure, if you even have to ask, then don’t do it.

Brenda Stone, Texas – I was curious about this question, so I wrote my secretary of state this note, “I am curious about how much a notary involves him- or herself in the process of determining that the witness meets that criteria of being disinterested in a document’s contents. Does the notary refuse to notarize if he or she knows or has reason to believe that the witness has an interest in the document and does not meet this requirement?”

The response that I received was, “Below is a link to Texas Administrative Code regarding when a notary may refuse to notarize a document. Let me know if this helps with your questions.” The link that she gave me was to the Texas Administrative Code. I read it and decided that unless the situation meets the criteria set forth in that link, I cannot refuse only because there are family members acting as witnesses.

AAN – Please note that the term “witnesses” can mean different things to signers and notaries. There are witnesses who observe signers signing documents and there are witnesses that swear to a person’s identity. In this case, the witnesses are observing the signer sign a document.

The subject of witnesses is of great interest to our readership. It will be covered in detail in the next issue of this newsletter.

Becoming an AAN Expert Notary Three of the benefits of becoming one of our expert notaries:

-You can refer your potential clients to the AAN publications in which your quotes and input appear.

-You will receive a back link to your site when your input is used in an AAN publication.

-You will be helping notaries improve their knowledge and skills.

To tells us of your interest, please put, “Attn: Expert Notary Editor” in the subject line of your email. In the body of the email tell us why you would be a great expert notary. Send your email to info@usnotaries.com .

Readers, thank you for your questions. The one question that you ask may benefit hundreds of others. Please continue to send them. We often use questions that we receive in publications like this one. We are always concerned about the issues that you face and with providing timely information to our readers and members.

Notice of Disclaimer: The information provided herein is not intended to be an authoritative statement of law. Notary laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may be interpreted or applied differently depending on your state’s statutes or situations. By providing this information, we are not acting as your attorney. We are providing this information based on long-established and recognized notarial standards and practices. If you have legal questions regarding acts or conduct as a notary public, please consult with an attorney or refer to your state’s statutes or other appropriate legal resources.