Practicing Safe Notary Law

By Carrie Christensen

When I think of Notary safety, my thought immediately goes to liability. How can a Notary prevent exposure to a lawsuit or an investigation? The answer is simple; Notaries must follow the laws without variation, every time. Even curve balls that cast a bit of murkiness on a notarization can ultimately be clarified through basic Notary rules.

Examining Notary lawsuits gives us insight as to where Notaries have gone wrong in the past. Improperly identifying a signer is at the top of the list. There are only nine IDs the California state law considers acceptable. There should never be a reason to divert from this list. Another form of satisfactory evidence is called a credible witness or witnesses. Many Notaries shy away from this method but it is perfectly legal. When a signer does not have ID because it was lost or stolen, she can use a friend who knows a Notary to verify her identify through an oath. Two credible witnesses are required when a signer has lost her ID but doesn’t know anyone who knows a Notary. Credible witnesses must always have proper ID. The only potential snag might be if a Notary uses personal knowledge too liberally. Ask yourself, “If I was on a witness stand, would my explanation of personal knowledge regarding a signer make sense to a jury?” It’s a judgement call you will have to make.

Keeping a complete and accurate journal can prevent lawsuits because it proves that you have followed important Notary laws. Your journal will indicate that you identified your signer properly and that they were present during the time of notarization. But, it’s easy to fall into bad habits, especially if you’re a Loan Signing Agent dealing with high volume. Shortcuts are used such as ditto marks or the word “Loan Docs” as a document description for multiple documents. Your journal entries should be correct in order to avoid peril. Each document notarized must have a complete line in your journal. Loan packages could have six or more documents that need to be notarized. That would take six lines in your journal. If there were two signers, you would complete twelve lines.

The notarial wording or certificate must be completed at the time of notarization while the signer is present. A common cause of lawsuits occur when a certificate is pre-signed or the date is altered. This could nullify the notarization if challenged in court. A boss or spouse might request such an act for purposes that make sense to them, but never succumb to the pressure. It will never make sense for a Notary to participate in an improper notarization as it could wind up in court.

Lastly, keep your journal and seal locked away safely. You should be the only one to possess the key. Invest in a safe or filing cabinet with a lock if you are not accommodated at work. You alone are responsible for their safekeeping.

So stay safe and stay aware! Know the laws and read refresher information often. Stay vigilant in following the law and maintain good habits.

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