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Steps to Proper Notarization

FAQs: Notarize Recordable Documents Like a Pro

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Today’s emailed newsletter from the American Association of Notaries (AAN) is packed with two lengthy sets of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that will guide notaries on completing notary certificates that are attached to recordable documents. Recordable documents carry a high degree of importance. Streamlining the process of recording documents is critical to commerce, real estate, and mortgage lending. Notaries play an important role in this process.

Part I of this article covers the way that this type of notarization should be performed in order to be acceptable to the offices that record the documents. Notarial acts and notary methods should accommodate recording offices so that documents are not rejected by recording clerks. The FAQs in Part II provide a broader foundation of general knowledge.

FAQs Part I – How to Notarize a Document that Will be Recorded

To begin, we cite a few examples of recordable documents.
Various types of deeds, deeds of trust, and mortgages are recordable documents that notaries and notary signing agents encounter most often. More types of recordable documents will be discussed below in Part II.

May I attach a loose certificate to a recordable document?
Yes. Please keep in mind, however, that the reasons to attach a loose certificate are (1) if the certificate is missing and is required and (2) if the language on the certificate is inadequate. Certificate language does not have to be a perfect match to one’s state’s boilerplate certificate wording, but a notary’s certificate must have all the elements required by his or her state. It is often possible to make handwritten/printed changes to a certificate in order not to attach a loose certificate. When a loose certificate must be attached, neatly line through the existing certificate and print, “See certificate on next page.” On the loose certificate that you attach, it is a good practice to neatly print near the bottom of the certificate’s page, “Attached as page 17 of Deed of Trust signed by Joe Doe on 4/30/12.”

Attaching Loose Certificates on All Documents – It seems like it would be easier if I marked out the certificate on all documents and attached a loose certificate. That way I know that the language is correct. Wouldn’t that be a better way to handle all recordable documents?
No. A notary should not attach a loose certificate to a document without good reason. Fees are charged for each page of a recordable document. By adding another page without cause, a notary usually causes an additional fee to be charged to the signer, title company, or lender. Where a certificate does not need to be attached, this act may result in a waste of time and money; it also makes it difficult for those (usually title companies’ or lenders’ employees) who are responsible for collecting fees for recording documents.

Certificate Type - Should I attach a loose jurat certificate or an acknowledgment certificate?
Acknowledgments almost always accompany recordable documents. However, assuming that you are not also an attorney or paralegal, if you are instructed by a signer to attach a jurat to a document, you must attach a jurat. If a document is presented to you with a jurat attached that you cannot complete because it has unacceptable language for your particular state, you should attach an acceptable jurat.

Do-it-yourself deeds are often printed on forms that do not have a certificate. However, the last page will often say, “Attach acknowledgment.” In this case, the instructions are clear that an acknowledgment should be attached.

More than One Certificate – May I notarize a recordable document with both an acknowledgment and a jurat?
If a document has both a jurat and an acknowledgment attached to it or if a notary is instructed to attach both a jurat and acknowledgment to a document, there is no reason that a notary should refuse to notarize both of the certificates.

Acknowledgment Wording on Stamp – May I use my acknowledgment stamp on a recordable document?
Many notaries use this type of stamp and say that they have never had a rejected document. The AAN website sells this type of stamp for some states. While we think that an acknowledgment stamp is appropriate in many situations, we recommend attaching a plain loose certificate to a document rather than using a stamp. Recording clerks may reject the document if the printing on the stamp is too small or simply because they have not seen this type of stamp used on a recordable document. It may slow down the process.

Notary Certificate Paper Size – Is it permissible for notary certificates be printed two to four times on an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper and then cut into narrow slips to attach to documents? (This would save both space and money.)
Although this may be acceptable for notarizing many types of documents, it could be a problem for recordable documents. Several years ago, it was common to see irregular-sized slips of paper on which notary certificates were printed. A notary would either glue or staple the certificate onto a page of the document or even on the back of the last page of the document. This is no longer readily accepted in all recording offices. The size of the certificate may or may not affect the recording of the document; however, the paper size will never cause a problem if it is the same size as the document. Since expediting the process is important, the best practice is to do what is most commonly acceptable.

Attaching a Loose Certificate – Where and how should the certificate be attached?
The certificate(s) should follow the signature page(s) of the document. Notary certificates should never precede signatures. A notary certificate should be attached to the document at the same fastening point and by using the same method as has been used on the document.

Obtaining Loose Notary Certificates - Where can I get loose notary certificates?
You may create loose certificates on your computer and reproduce as needed. Send an email to info@usnotaries.com if you do not know the proper wording for your state’s certificates. We can assist.

Appearance of a Notary Certificate – May I print my loose notary certificates in one or more custom ink colors? Would it be a problem to put decorative borders on my loose notary certificates?
A notary certificate should be easily scanned or photocopied so that the result is a clear representation of the original notary certificate. We recommend that notaries use a font of 11 pt. or greater printed in black on white paper when producing loose notary certificates. Borders should not distract from the certificate and they should not appear outside of a one-inch margin around the page. The best policy would be to create plain notary certificates that do not cause clerks to take extra time to consider whether or not the color of the print or size of the print is adequate.

Blanks in Documents – What should I do about documents that have blanks in them?
The AAN’s recommended best practice is to ask the signer to complete all blanks in a document before notarizing. However, we caution notaries to be careful about rejecting documents with blanks in them. Filling in all blanks is not necessarily a requirement in each state.

Using Correction Fluid or Tape; Blanks in Certificate – May I use correction fluid or tape if I make an error? What if I do not know how to complete each blank in a notary certificate?
Never use correction fluid or correction tape on a notary certificate.

Notaries should not leave blanks in their notary certificates. Notaries often see certificates that are not familiar. If you cannot determine what goes in the blank, refer to your state’s statutory certificate forms or educational materials. If you are still unable to determine what should go in the blanks, look closer. Is the blank is a placeholder for “him,” “her,” or “they?” The blank could be a place for you to put the date, your own name, or “notary public.” A blank may also be a placeholder for the capacity of the signer, for example, “Executrix of the Estate” or “Trustee.” If all else fails and you cannot determine the right words for each blank, attach a loose certificate.

Venue – What is the venue? Is it my own state and county or the county in which I am notarizing at the time?
Putting the correct venue on the certificate is extremely important. If you are a notary in Orange County, California and you are notarizing the document in Los Angeles County, California, the venue is:

State of California
County of Los Angeles

If the wrong state and/or county is already printed on a certificate, line through it and put the correct venue on it. Most notaries also initial this change.

If you do not understand or have questions about notary venue, please send them to us at info@usnotaries.com . We will attempt to provide more personal guidance on this important notary task.

About the Seal – What must I know about applying my seal?
Your seal is extremely important to clerks who record documents. All clerks do not know the requirements of notaries in all states. To expedite the process of recording documents, use a seal whether or not you are required to use one. Make certain that your seal does not appear to be expired. In a few states it is acceptable to mark out a stale commission date and handwrite the current one, but it will slow down the process of recording if you do this. Invest in a current seal for notarizing recordable documents.

A seal is still valid even if you inadvertently apply it “upside down.” It is acceptable to re-stamp the seal in a right side up position. Re-stamp the document if the seal is light or unreadable. Do not mark out a seal or stamp over it; simply repeat it on another area.

Do not stamp your seal over text on the document or the certificate.

Seal and Signature Appearance – What color ink must I use for my seal and Signature?
If you follow us on Facebook, you know that seal color and requirements for all states have been discussed on our Facebook pages and in a previous article . Be certain that your seal complies.

Your signature should be in a reproducible dark color. Leading authorities on recordable documents prefer dark blue.

Pre-signed and/or Pre-sealed Loose Certificates – May I create several loose certificates with my seal or certificate already on them in order to save time?
No. Seals and signatures must be original and should never be pre-printed on certificates.

Certified Copies – May I make certified copies of deeds, mortgages, and deeds of trust?
No. They are recordable documents. Certified copies must be retrieved from the official recording office. Notaries should not make certified copies of these types of documents before or after they are recorded.

FAQs Part II – More on Recordable Documents

What is a recordable document?
A recordable document is one that is made part of the public record. Its purpose is to make available to the public critical information that affects all, many, or a few citizens. Recordable documents are published by certain offices of government after they are recorded. A citizen presents a recordable document to a recording office and the document may be viewed by the public after it is recorded.

What are additional examples of recordable documents?

In addition to those mentioned in FAQs – Part I, wills, trusts, and powers of attorney may also be recorded, but those are usually recorded in the probate records and not with the types of documents discussed above.

Civil lawsuit papers, criminal records, and family or divorce papers are also documents that may be made a part of the public record. These types of records are generally filed with the clerk of the court that is handling the matter. Additionally, business entity start-up documents are filed with various government clerks and made a part of the public record. All of those records are normally available for the public to see.

What government offices record documents?
Many types of government offices may be appointed to file or record documents. Citizens can usually access the records by visiting the office. However, some records may require an official written request or they may require a court order. Notaries are usually interested in offices that record deeds, mortgages, and deeds of trust. Those offices may be the local city or county clerk and may be located in city hall or in the county courthouse.

There are offices at the district and state levels that file documents, as well. For instance, the state has an office that accepts business entity incorporation documents. Many times, that is the secretary of state’s office.

These are very general explanations. Every state manages recorded documents or documents filed of record a little differently.

What does the clerk do?
Suppose a citizen presents the clerk with a deed. The deed is copied by the clerk and an official seal is placed on each page of the deed. The original deed will be mailed back to the proper party for safekeeping and the clerk has a recorded exact copy of the deed in the public record.

The same thing happens at the district and state level. Documents are accepted by a district or state clerk; they are recorded. Once a document is recorded, a clerk sends a document back to the filers with a clerk’s stamp on it.

Who records documents that are handled by notary signing agents?
The recordable documents that notary signing agents notarize are usually recorded by the employees of title companies and lenders involved in transactions that the signing agents handle. The fees for recording documents appear on the settlement statements that notary signing agents see in loan packages. Usually, the documents are tendered for recording at the property clerk’s office in a local city hall or county courthouse.

Concluding Remarks
In March, the Property Records Industry Association (PRIA) published a report, “Notary Best Practices for Recordable Documents - Version 2.”

The report prompted the AAN to recognize that PRIA sees a need for notaries to learn how to handle recordable documents properly. Since this is an important topic for PRIA associates, it is an important point of education for notaries.

The questions and answers in this article are based on our readers’ questions over the past several years and are written to target the audience of our newsletter readers. Our recommendations are our own and some of them are similar to PRIA’s. The AAN is always eager to make readers aware of industry standards and additional pointers may be gained from the PRIA report.

We want our readers to have as many quality educational tools available to them as possible. Because of its careful licensing, we prefer not to provide a link to or a quote from the PRIA publication, but it is excellent instructive reading for notaries. Visit the main site of PRIA to read the report, which, as of the publication date of this article, can be accessed via a link entitled “Notary Best Practices.”

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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.