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:
- Ask the signer if they are aware of what they are signing and the purpose of the document.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.