Notary Stamp Ink Color: Black or Blue?

OCTOBER 29, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

If your state does not address which color ink to use when notarizing documents, ordering a notary stamp with a blue ink color is best. Given the improved quality of copy machines these days, it is difficult to distinguish between originals and copies. A blue ink notary stamp impression usually shows lighter prints than the original print on a black-and-white copier.

However, some states do specify in their laws what notary stamp ink color to use when notarizing documents. For example notaries in Tennessee are required to use any ink except black or yellow. Florida, Oregon, Missouri, and Illinois require notaries to use notary stamps or notary seals with black ink only. In Utah, a notary stamp ink color cannot be black; it must be purple.

Notarizing documents using an ink color that is not allowed by your state notary laws may jeopardize your commission and subject you to disciplinary action. In addition, it may cause delays and hardship for the document signer.

The American Association of Notaries (AAN) can accommodate notaries with a choice of ink colors on almost any notary stamp or notary seal available on the AAN website. The choices are black, blue, purple, green, and red. The AAN recommends that you choose a notary stamp ink color that reproduces clearly when documents are photocopied.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Certifying Copies of a Notary’s Record Book Entries

OCTOBER 22, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

On occasion, a notary public may receive a request from the public for a copy or certified copy of one or more notarial acts that the notary previously performed and recorded in his or her notary’s journal (also called a record book, register, or log). For example, a family member is questioning a will that was notarized two years prior, so another family member requests a copy of the recorded notarial act to verify the reliability of the will. Or, perhaps a spouse is claiming her signature was forged on a power of attorney that her husband used to sell a jointly-owned property, and now, for evidence in a lawsuit, she needs a certified copy of the notary record book entry relating to the power of attorney document. 

How a notary public proceeds in these types of cases is important. When requested to provide a certified copy of an entry or to allow the inspection of the notary’s register, every notary must respond according to state notary laws, administrative rules, and directives from the state’s commissioning authority. 

If the state’s notary laws dictate that a notary’s register is public information, the notary must respond in a timely fashion to requests for copies and inspection of journal entries. Failure to reply to a valid request for copies or inspection of the notary’s register may result in suspension or revocation of the notary’s commission. 

For example, states such as Texas, Maryland, and Colorado deem notarial record book entries to be “public information,” meaning that the notarial acts recorded in a notary’s journal must be made available to any person requesting a certified copy and/or asking to inspect the notary’s journal. Generally, the laws of such states mandate that notaries provide this service to any person requesting it upon the payment of fees. 

Some states provide their notaries with step-by-step instructions on how to proceed with requests for certified copies and inspection of their notary journals. In Massachusetts and Mississippi, an individual requesting a certified copy of a notary record book entry must provide the notary with a written request containing the details of the notarial act in question. In order for the notary to comply, the requestor must: 1) produce satisfactory evidence of his or her identity; 2) sign the notary’s journal; and 3) specify the month, year, type of document, and name of the person involved in the notarial act or acts. The requestor may be shown only the entry or entries defined in the request. 

A request to inspect all pages of a notary’s journal in Massachusetts can be honored only for law enforcement agencies in the event of a court-ordered subpoena, or when the Governor’s Office orders the notary to surrender the journal. In Mississippi, such an inspection can only be requested by law enforcement officers, through a court-ordered subpoena, or by the Secretary of State. The notaries in these states are authorized to deny access to the notary record book if they have a reasonable belief that the requestor has a criminal or harmful intent in requesting the information. 

Notaries in Hawaii and California must follow strict procedures when complying with requests for certified copies and/or inspection of their notary registers. In Hawaii, a person may view the notary’s record books by submitting a written request to the Notary Public Program (NPP) with the Department of the Attorney General. The request must include the name of the notary public, the type of transaction, the date, and the signer’s name. According to the NPP’s website, the process for obtaining the requested copies and/or inspection of the notary records may take a while because the notary journal may be in storage or in possession of the notary, which may require NPP to contact the notary. 

State laws in California require a subpoena duces tecum or a court order before a notary’s journal can be examined, and the inspection must be in the presence of the notary. However, a notary is required to provide any member of the public with a copy of a transaction in the notary’s journal provided that the written request contains the name of the parties, the type of document, and the month and year in which the transaction was notarized. 

Notaries in some states, including Michigan, Illinois, and Alaska, are not required by their states’ notary laws to record all notarial acts in notary registers; nevertheless, notaries are encouraged by their states’ commissioning authorities to do so. Notaries who decide to maintain record books in those states must consult their states’ laws to determine whether their notary register entries are public information. For example, Illinois notaries are not allowed to produce copies of entries in their notary journals, while Michigan notaries are required to provide copies of their notarial records only to the Department of State upon proper request. 

Ultimately, notaries must consult their guiding statutes and their states’ commissioning authorities to determine the proper course of action when third parties seek information from their notary record books. If state law stipulates that entries in a notary record book are public information, notaries are still obligated to take careful precautions when providing certified copies of their notarial records, as well as when their notary record books are being examined. 

Failure to perform any act mandated by notary law may result in disciplinary action or the suspension or revocation of the notary’s commission. 

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Steps to Certifying a Copy of an Original Document

JULY 28, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

Many states allow notaries to make certified copies of documents as long as the original document is not a publicly recorded document. Documents that clients may ask to have certified by a notary include contracts, letters, settlement statements, agreements, and bills of sale. This list is certainly not all inclusive.

Often, notary-certified copies of originals are bound for recipients in other countries. This almost always means that they will flow through the notary’s state authentication office so that the document may have an apostille or certificate of authentication attached to it before going to the receiving country. When a document goes through the process of authentication, the receiving country may verify that the presiding notary who made the copy is a genuine notary public.

Therefore, assume that all notary-certified copies you make will be required to sustain a thorough inspection by your state’s notary public administrator’s office.

Please note that not all states allow their notaries to make certified copies of documents. Before attempting this act, check your state’s notary laws to be certain you are authorized to do this type of notarial act. (At the end of this article is a link to the most current information that we have available about state laws and notary certified copies.)

Below are the steps that you should follow

This is a general overview of steps that must be completed. Notaries should review their states’ laws to confirm the appropriate method to be used in their home states. Methods are slightly different from state to state.

Step 1 - Review the document to make sure that it is an original. Notaries cannot make certified copies of copies.

Step 2 - Confirm that the document is not a public record or otherwise forbidden by your state’s laws. Examples of publicly recorded documents are divorce decrees, deeds, mortgages, entity documents, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other legal documents that have been recorded by clerks in government offices. Note that this list is not all inclusive.

Student records (transcripts, etc.) may be a problem for some states. Direct the client to the school’s registrar’s office for certified copies of school transcripts. Policies vary. For instance, Florida allows notaries to make attested copies of diplomas, but Texas notaries cannot make certified copies of diplomas.
Step 3 - Make a copy of the document on white paper; do not use colored paper. Do not make a copy in color that looks like the original. Use the standard black/white setting on your copier. If the client brings the copy to you, inspect the copy closely and compare it to the original to assure the copy is a true copy.

Step 4 - Use the correct notarial certificate for making a certified copy. Or, if you prefer, use a stamp on the copy that has your statutory notary certificate wording for this type of act. If you cannot use a stamp, you must attach a loose notary certificate.

If you use a loose certificate, be sure to add to the bottom of a loose certificate identifying information similar to the following: “Attached to (Name of Document). Number of pages including this one ____. Document Date, if any:__________. Signatories, if any: __________________.”

Step 5 - Complete the notarization.
Step 6 – If your state requires you to keep a journal of notarial acts, have the document custodian sign the notary record book after you record what the certificate was attached to, the number of pages, the date of the original, and the names of the signatories if any.

Typical Certified Copy Certificate Language

Usually, states that allow notaries to make copies have special certificate language set forth in notary handbooks. Typical certified copy certificate language is shown below. Note that Florida notaries “attest” to the trueness of copies. Also, Florida notaries must personally supervise the making of copies from the originals.

State of __

County of __

On this __________ day of __________, (year), I certify (or attest) that the preceding or attached document, is a true, exact, complete, and unaltered copy made by me of __________ (description of document), presented to me by the document’s custodian,______________ (name of document custodian), and that, to the best of my knowledge, the photocopied document is neither a public record nor a publicly recordable document, certified copies of which are available from an official source other than a notary.

[Notary’s signature and seal]

Copy Certification Tips

TIP #1 – If a document that is to be certified by you as a true copy is destined for another country for a lengthy process such as a foreign adoption, decline to provide services if your notary commission is less than one year away from expiration. Refer the client to another capable notary.

TIP #2 – To read more on certified copies, refer to this three-part article entitled “Advanced Study of Certified Copies.” Part I, Part II, Part III

Does your state allow notary certified copies?

Check here to see what State.gov says.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Notary Jurat Certificates vs. Acknowledgment Certificates

JUNE 9, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

The two most common certificates used by notaries public are jurats and acknowledgments.  They are not handled the same and this confuses many notaries public.  Please note the differences explained below. 

Jurat Certificate:

The language is “Sworn (or affirmed) and subscribed to before me, Sam Notary, a notary public, by Jack Signer on the 15th day of June, 2014” 

In plain language the jurat certificate says that Jack Signer was in the presence of Sam Notary.   

Jack swore (or affirmed) to the truthfulness of the document. (In other words, Jack took an oath/affirmation.)   

It also says that the Jack Signer “subscribed to” the document “before me.”  “Me” means Sam Notary.  So, obviously, Jack would be required to sign the document in Sam Notary’s presence because the certificate states that Sam saw Jack sign the document.  (This might seem like we are overstating the obvious, but when you get to the section about the acknowledgment certificate, you will see the difference.) 

The Verbal Ceremony for Jurat Certificates

Sam Notary says, “Jack Signer, do you swear or affirm that the statements in this document are true to the best of your knowledge?” 

Jack:  “Yes.” 

Sam Notary:  “Sir, please sign the document.” 

Sam observes while Jack signs the document. 

Sam Notary completes the certificate with his signature and seal. 

Important to Know about Jurat Certificates:  If Jack had signed the document before he went by Sam’s notary office, Sam would be required to have Jack sign the document in his presence.  Sam was required to observe Jack Signer sign the document.

Acknowledgement Certificate:

The language is “Before me, Sam Notary, a notary public, on this day personally appeared Jack Signer, proved to me through presentation of a U.S. Passport to be the person whose name is subscribed to the foregoing instrument and acknowledged to me that he executed the same for the purposes and consideration therein expressed.  Given under my hand and seal of office this 15th day of June, 2014.” 

In plain language the acknowledgment certificate says that Jack Signer appeared before Sam Notary.  Sam Notary saw Jack Signer’s U.S. Passport and that is how he identified Jack.  

Note that the acknowledgement certificate does not say that Jack signed his name in the presence of Sam Notary.  It says that Jack ACKNOWLEDGED to Sam that he signed the document.  Therefore, it would be acceptable if Jack Signer had signed the document before going to Sam’s office.  Sam does NOT have to witness Jack signing the document. Sam Notary must ask Jack to acknowledge that he signed the document.  

The Verbal Ceremony for Acknowledgments

Before administering the verbal ceremony, Sam Notary instructs Jack Signer to sign the document, if it is not already signed. 

Sam Notary says, “Jack Signer, do you acknowledge that this is your signature and you are signing (or have signed) this document for the purposes stated in the document?” 

Jack: “Yes.” 

Sam Notary completes the certificate with his signature and seal. 

Important to know about acknowledgment certificates:  Jack Signer may sign the document before he drops by at Sam’s notary office.  Once he is at the office Jack Signer must ACKNOWLEDGE his signature and that he signed the document for the purposes stated in the document.  Sam is not required to watch Jack sign the document. 

Summary: 

1-While it is always better if a document that is to be acknowledged is signed in the notary’s presence, it is NOT required.   

2-A document attached to a jurat certificate MUST be signed in the notary’s presence. 

3-Notaries must administer verbal ceremonies that match the notary certificates that will complete. Where verbal ceremonies are concerned, one size does not fit all!

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Florida Bills Close in on Notary Journal Requirement

JUNE 9, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

If passed, either of two bills that were filed with Florida legislative bodies at the end of 2013 will significantly update Florida notary laws to include the requirement of keeping a journal of notary acts. The new law would go into effect on July 1, 2014. 

SB 0172 was filed on September 18, 2013 by Senator Darren Soto (D), District 14.  A companion bill, HB 0407 was filed by Rep. Kathleen Peters (R), District 69 in December, 2013. 

SUMMARY: 

Both bills as currently amended can be generally summarized as follows:  

Notaries Public; Requiring a notary public to record specified information in a notarial journal when performing certain notarial acts; requiring that a notary public retain a notarial journal for a specified period; requiring a notary public to notify the Department of State (DOS) if the notarial journal is lost, stolen, misplaced, destroyed, erased, compromised, rendered unusable, or becomes otherwise inaccessible during the retention period; exempting certain acts of specified law enforcement and correctional officers from the notarial journal requirements, etc. 

AMENDMENTS TO BILLS: 

Notably, when HB 0407 was originally filed, it included a clause that would require Florida notaries to pay a fee to have criminal history records checked.  It appears that the amended version no longer includes the criminal history check requirement.  

Also, SB 0172 originally required that the notary record the entire number appearing on the ID used by the notary to identify the signer.  That has been amended to only require the last four digits of the ID number.   

Read the current version of HB 0407

Read the current version of SB 0172 

To track HB 0407, see this link.

To track SB 0172, see this link

EFFECTS ON FLORIDA NOTARY LAWS: 

Section 1 creates s.117.055, F.S., to require a notary to keep a bound, sequentially numbered paper journal or an electronic journal that creates sequential and nonmodifiable records of each notarial act. The journal must include the following:  

  • The signer’s printed name, signature, or, in the case of an electronic journal, the signer’s name and electronic signature pursuant to s. 668.50(2)(h), F.S., and his or her address;
  • An indication that the signer is personally known to the notary or presented a satisfactory form of identification. The notary must record the type, last four digits of the unique identification number, and expiration date of any identification presented; and
  • The names of any witnesses.  

The journal is the exclusive property of the notary and must be kept in a locked and secure area, under the direct and exclusive control of the notary. Access to an electronic journal must be protected by a password or other secure means of authentication. The journal must be retained for at least 5 years following the date of the last entry in the journal. 

If a journal is lost, stolen, misplaced, destroyed, erased, compromised, rendered unusable, or otherwise inaccessible, the notary must immediately notify DOS in writing of the circumstances of the incident.  

A notary’s failure to comply with these requirements constitutes grounds for suspension or nonrenewal of the notary’s commission and grounds for the denial of any subsequent commission by the Governor.  

Section 2 amends s. 117.10, F.S., to provide that certain types of law enforcement, correctional, and investigative officers are exempt from the journal requirement.  

Section 3 provides an effective date of July 1, 2014.  

REMARKS: 

The AAN commends Florida lawmakers for considering the issues of notaries public. 

We are pleased to note that only the last four digits of the ID document shall be required under the new law, if passed.  To record the entire number stated on an ID could be troublesome for signers and notaries. 

Furthermore, the AAN approves of the language stating that the journal is the exclusive property of the notary and must be kept in a locked and secure area, under the direct and exclusive control of the notary.   

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

The Notary Commission Belongs to the Notary

APRIL 30, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

Becoming a notary public is a noteworthy undertaking; there are many reasons why a person may apply for a notary commission. Some apply for a notary commission to broaden their professional credentials and skills for employment. Others become notaries at the request of an employer or as a service to their business clients. Law firms, shipping centers, banks, and post offices are a few of the many types of businesses that have notaries on staff.

When an employer asks an employee to become a notary, the employer may decide to pay for the employee’s notary education (if required), notary seal, supplies, and notarial record book.

Regardless of who pays for the notary commission— the notary, or the employer—the notary commission, seal, and notarial records belong solely to the notary, even if the employer paid for them.

If an employee leaves his or her position of employment, does the employer retain the notary’s commission, record book, or notary seal? Does an employer have the right to request that the notary employee resign his or her notary commission? “No.” is the answer to both of these questions.

An employer may be under the impression that an illegal notarization performed in the future by a departing notary employee will cause liability for him or her (or the company) since the employer paid for the notary bond and commission. Therefore, employers may erroneously request that notaries resign their notary commissions; employers may also attempt to keep notary seals and records.

However, a notary must insist that he or she remain in possession of his or her notary commission, notary seal, and notary record book. If an employer refuses to give possession of a notary’s commission, records, or seal to the notary owner, the notary may be able to resolve the problem by

  • sending a letter via certified mail to the employer outlining that a notary’s commission, seal, and records are the sole property of the notary public to whom they were assigned;
  • providing his or her former employer with a copy of this article;
  • including the contact information for the state notary public administrator’s office with a suggestion that the employer contact the office to verify to whom the notary’s seal, records, and commission belong; and
  • ending a copy of the letter via certified mail to the notary public administrator’s office.

Once the notary public administrator’s office has been notified that an employer kept the notarial possessions of the notary, a notary should be able to replace them and continue serving as a notary public.

Notary laws vary from state to state; notaries should inquire about their states’ official procedures if they find themselves leaving jobs without being allowed to take and retain possession of their notarial records, seals, or commissioning documents.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Notarizing Handwritten Documents

APRIL 24, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

Perhaps a father needs to have a statement notarized that authorizes his child to go on a trip with a friend’s family. He might decide to handwrite it. The same could be true for a building tenant who needs to provide a letter to a housing authority verifying household income. Or, perhaps a separated couple facing an income tax issue may need to quickly submit a notarized declaration that they have lived apart for several months.

Handwritten documents can be created on the fly. They can be notarized if they are complete and attached to proper notarial certificates.

Below are the steps to follow when notarizing a handwritten document.

  1. Check the document for completeness. In other words, check the document for blank lines or missing information; have the signer fill in blank spaces or enter “N/A.”
  2. If the handwritten document includes a notarial certificate, ensure that the notarial certificate complies with your state’s notary laws. (Handwritten certificates are perfectly legal and acceptable as long as they include the correct language.)
  3. Review the venue. If necessary, make corrections to the venue; simply draw a line through the incorrect words, initial it, and print the correct venue information. Do not use correction tape or apply a product like White-Out to any part of a notarial certificate.
  4. If no notarial certificate has been included, provide the signer with samples of your state’s acceptable jurat and acknowledgment certificates; allow them to make a selection. Never choose for the signer.
  5. Properly identify the signer. Refer to your state’s notary laws for acceptable forms of identification.
  6. Record the required information in your record book. You may want to include a comment that the document was handwritten. You could also add a note that the signer presented the document without a certificate and that he or she selected one.
  7. Ask the signer to sign the document if it is not already signed. (If the notary certificate is a jurat, the document must be signed in the notary’s presence. If the document is attached to an acknowledgment, the signer may sign the document before meeting with the notary.)
  8. Perform the appropriate verbal ceremony.
  9. Complete the notarial certificate with the date of the act; add your seal.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Notarizing Last Wills and Testaments

APRIL 3, 2014 by American Association of Notaries

Wills are highly sensitive probate documents that determine how a person’s assets will be distributed after his or her death. The person making the will is called a “testator” if male and a “testatrix” if female. 

Some states advise novice notaries against notarizing wills unless those notaries are knowledgeable about the practice. Many notaries who encounter wills do so within the capacity of their occupation, for instance as a legal assistant or an employee of a law firm that handles wills and other estate-planning documents. Such wills are drafted by attorneys with specific instructions and pre-printed notarial certificates for the notary to complete.  

Problems can arise when a client presents a notary with a self-prepared will and the client depends on the notary to determine the appropriate notarial certificate. In such cases, a savvy notary should decline to perform the notarial act and advise the person to contact an attorney for advice. You might also suggest that investing in a good attorney will prevent problems down the road with contested wills or wills thrown out in probate court due to sloppy execution procedures. 

Laws regarding the proper execution of wills vary greatly from state to state. In states such as New York and North Carolina, a will does not have to be notarized to be accepted for probate in the courts. However, attorneys in those states recommend drafting “self-proving wills” to speed up the probate. A “self-proving will” is one in which the testator and the disinterested witnesses swear, in an affidavit in front of  a notary, that the testator is fully aware of what is being signed and that the disinterested witnesses witnessed the testator sign the will. In these states, the court will accept “self-proving wills” without contacting the witnesses who witnessed the testator sign the will.  In the absence of a self-proving will, it will be necessary to track down the original witnesses to “prove” he or she witnessed the signing of the will, which can be difficult and time consuming for the heirs.  

In California, a will only needs the signatures of two disinterested witnesses who witness the testator sign the will and does not need to be notarized in order to be valid. In some states, such as Texas, a holographic will (written entirely in the testator’s own handwriting) is considered valid. It would be prudent, therefore, for the notary in those states to make it a practice to refuse to notarize hand-written wills and to refer clients with those requests to an attorney. 

In conclusion, notaries should exercise caution when notarizing wills. Because of a lack of understanding and diligence, an improperly drafted will that is notarized can be declared null. If you are not comfortable with notarizing a will, you should not proceed. If you have questions, politely ask the client for the name, address, and phone number of the lawyer who drafted the will.  

One last note: always follow the steps for proper notarization when performing notarial acts by requesting the physical presence of the signer, properly identifying the signer, and ensuring that the signer is competent and fully understands what is being signed.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Notarizing for Blind and Illiterate Individuals

DECEMBER 2, 2013 by American Association of Notaries

Most notarizations a notary will perform involve signers who are competent, understand the content in the document, and have the ability to sign freely and willingly. In rare situations you may receive a request to perform a notarization from a client who is blind or illiterate. How will you proceed? Will you refuse to perform the notarization simply because the signer is unable to read? Is it enough to ask those signers for proper identification and acknowledge they understand the contents of the document and proceed with the notarial act? What protections will you offer vulnerable signers to ensure a smooth and honest transaction?

When notarizing for the blind or illiterate, the steps to proper notarization should always be followed as in any normal notarization. However, due to the heightened potential for fraud, a notary must maintain caution in ensuring they are notarizing the document the signer is intended to sign and that the signer fully understands what is being signed. When presented with such a situation, follow the steps below:

  1. Ask the signer if they are aware of what they are signing and the purpose of the document.
  2. Read the entire document to the signer. This may take some time, but this is important in ensuring the signer is signing the document they are intending to sign. However, to avoid unauthorized practice of law, non-attorney notaries should avoid explaining anything in the document if asked by the signer.
  3. If the signer is unable to understand all or any of the document’s contents you are reading, then you should refuse to notarize. Detail the refusal in your record book.
  4. If family members are coercing the person into signing, ask family members to step out of the room until you complete the notarial act. Refuse to proceed if they refuse to step out.
  5. After the above steps are completed, proceed with performing the steps to a proper notarization, such as identifying the signer, and reading the notarial certificate to identify the type of notarial act you will be performing.
  6. Direct the signer’s hand to the signature block to sign. If the person is unable to sign, a signature by Mark “X” will suffice. Ensure you follow your state notary law requirements regarding Signatures by Mark.
  7. Do not allow the signer to use a signature stamp to sign the document. This may invalidate the notarization in states that do not allow signature stamps. Most states require the notary to witness the signer signing the document. (Note: Oregon allows the use of a signature stamp by the disabled or the illiterate). Check your state laws to determine if this is permitted.
  8. Follow the same steps above to have the signer sign your notary record book.

As a notary, you are required to exercise a high degree of reasonable care and due diligence when performing your notarial duties. Reasonable care is defined as the standard of care which an ordinary, reasonable and prudent notary public would exercise to ensure a flawless notarization under the same or similar circumstances.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.

Notaries, Plan Ahead for Tax Season

NOVEMBER 17, 2013 by American Association of Notaries

The end of the year will be upon us before we know it. Black Friday promotions, holiday decorations and cold weather serve to remind us that the end of the year is fast approaching. Along with making preparations for holiday and family gatherings, notaries may want to begin planning ahead for the upcoming tax filing season by making sure that detailed records of any invoices, bank statements, receipts, and 1099s will be in place for a timely and smooth filing.

The type of notarial services you provide, whether an occasional notarization for a friend or neighbor, an active vibrant notary signing business or workplace notarial tasks will determine how much additional planning you must do to be ready at tax time. If you perform notarizations infrequently, chances are that you may not have any major considerations at tax time. On the other hand, if you have a very active notary business, tax time can cause chaos. There are things you can do to make your life, and that of your accountant or tax preparer, much easier when tax filing season begins.

Organizing Your Notary Expenses Records

Review your notary expenditures and purchases for this year. Did you purchase new notary stamps? Did you renew your notary commission and pay the renewal fee? Did you purchase notary errors and omissions insurance? Were you required to replace a notary record book or notary journal? These are common expenses for notaries.

However, if you provide mobile notary services, you will also need to have a log of all notary service mileage and transportation expenses, whether they are gasoline, tolls, or car rentals. If you’ve been negligent in keeping a consistent log, plan to rectify this by purchasing log books and ledgers for your accounting needs in the New Year, or keep digital records.

Notaries are allowed to deduct for the tools they use to provide services to the public, so calculate what you have spent for copy and printing services, as well as any office equipment you may have purchased for your notary business needs. Don’t forget to include landline phone and mobile phone expense, internet fees and postage. Marketing materials to promote your business such as business cards, websites and window signs should also be added to the list of expenses. While all income generated must be reported, the IRS allows you to deduct for your legitimate expenses. Get into the habit of keeping consistent records throughout the year so the information is ready and coherent at year’s end. 

Reporting Notary Income

It is all important that notaries keep active logs of all notary-related income. This may include a simple notary fee that is charged for everyday notarizations such as acknowledged documents or sworn affidavits. Or, this may be larger payments received for mobile notary services or loan closings. In these cases, a notary may have generated a large income throughout the year. This income will be reported on Form 1040 Schedule C. Now is a good time to verify that you have received any outstanding payments from notary agencies and title companies for services rendered throughout the year. If you have received, or will receive, $600.00 or more from any one person or company, you should expect to receive a Form 1099-MISC. Make a list of all expected 1099s-MISC so you can check them off as you receive them in the new year or contact any company who may be late in sending it out to you. (Forms 1099 should generally be received no later than January 31st.)

All notary fees and payments for notary services are reportable as income, but notary fees are not subject to self-employment taxes. (Self-employment taxes are the payments a self-employed person pays into their Social Security and Medicare accounts. These payments are paid from the gross income of regular employees and matched by their employers.) Your tax advisor can advise and assist you about exempting your notary fees from self employment tax on your tax return.

For more information, view our notary tax article on notary fees

Consider Paying Estimated Taxes

If your notary income is considerably large, you may find that it is advantageous in the future to pay estimated taxes throughout the year. This is an important consideration if the additional income from notary work causes you to enter a higher tax bracket and have increased tax liability. Estimated taxes are paid four times a year: April, June, September and January.  The quarterly taxes will offset tax liability at the time the tax return is filed. Your tax consultant can advise you about this and assist you in determining how much to pay each quarter. The IRS expects taxpayers to “pay as they go.” It is preferable to lower your tax liability during the year rather than to owe large tax bills at tax filing time.

Make Note of Filing Status and Other Changes

Lastly, notaries should do what all tax filers should do in preparing for tax season. Take time to determine if your filing status has changed from the previous tax year. If you have a new notary business, you will now almost certainly have self-employment income or income as an independent contractor. Therefore, you will be adding Form 1040 Schedule C to your regular federal tax return.

Did your marital status change? Did you add any new dependents? Did you relocate and thus generate moving expenses? All of these items may affect your tax return. Making notes and preparations now will allow you to breathe easy when the New Year arrives and tax filing season begins.

Due to the 2013 government shut-down, the 2014 tax season may be delayed by one or two weeks according to IRS sources. For further information, forms and publications, visit www.irs.gov.

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Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information and ideas for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary educations, and securing their notary supplies but makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained . Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding federal laws and statutes and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered the information from a variety of sources. We do not warrant the information gathered from those sources. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of an attorney in their state if they have legal questions about how to notarize.