The Power of Attorney is an important document that is necessary and practical in today’s world. If I planned an extended trip to Europe, I would give my daughter the right to sign on my behalf to pay bills, manage the house and make medical decisions for our pets. The general power of attorney gives the legal right for another person to handle financial transactions, make business decisions, employ help and gives decision making authority over real estate matters. It’s clear how vital this document can become and how much trust the principal places in another’s hands.
Recently, my friend’s mother, Clara, was whisked away by one of her daughters to a lawyer’s office where Clara was asked to sign a Power of Attorney. This gave the whisking daughter all rights to manage Clara’s financial affairs. Prior to this, both of her daughters had shared the Power of Attorney. There, at eighty-one years old and with limited mental capacity, Clara signed a crucial document while no additional family members were informed or present. I see legal problems in the future for this family, the lawyer, and the Notary. It is the Notary’s responsibility to make sure the signer was not coerced or under duress. Clara was experiencing both.
While trying to help my friend sort this out, I received a call from a member who needed to notarize a nine-page Power of Attorney. There were two notarial certificates contained within the document. Both the Principal and the Attorney-in-Fact’s signature will be notarized in two places so the Notary will receive $40 for this transaction. Two signatures – two certificates. There was also a page for two witnesses to sign yet no additional witnesses appeared with the signers. It’s possible that additional witnesses were not needed but the signer would need to inform the Notary if that was the case. If there’s any confusion, the issuing or receiving agency should be contacted to find out how the document should be properly notarized. The word witness implies that they are there to observe the signing. Having witnesses and a Notary seems duplicative, however sometimes it is required. The takeaway is that it is not up to the Notary to inform the document signers whether witnesses are needed or not.
The Notary’s job is to identify the signers with satisfactory evidence, compare the ID signature with the one on the document and properly complete the notarial certificate. And because the Power of Attorney is so pervasive, make sure your signer is willing and coherent by asking her questions. Like in my friend’s case, without the attorney present, if the signer is a senior citizen or you sense something is not right, questions such as “Do you understand what you are signing?” and “Are you comfortable signing this document?” are acceptable.