Handling Missing Notarial Certificates

Most experienced notaries know that they should always keep a stack of acknowledgement and jurat notarial certificates on hand in case a client presents them with a document that does not include a notarial certificate. Unfortunately, not all notaries are experienced. There are a good number of notaries who have been working for a while and yet are not aware that a document cannot be notarized without a notarial certificate printed on or attached to the document.

Recently, I was hired to process a notarized letter for an apostille to be used in Spain. The document originated from an out-of-state company. When I received the letter, I saw that while the notary public had stamped and signed the letter, there was no notarial certificate added to it. Thus, I had to send the letter back to the organization and explain that a notarial certificate needed to be added to the letter. I also suggested they find a more experienced notary public and even offered to help them locate one in their area. Of course, this delayed the processing of the apostille.

Many new appointed notaries do not understand the importance or purpose of notarial certificates. Notarial certificates, whether they are acknowledgments or jurats, state the facts: where the notarization took place, who appeared before the notary, and the statement the signer made before the notary.

Acknowledgement and jurat notarial certificates have different implications. As notaries, we need to be knowledgeable about these differences and about the purposes of the notarial certificates so that we can explain them to our clients. At the same time, we must be careful that we don't cross the line and run the risk of being accused of unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

The Texas Secretary of State's notary public website defines an acknowledgement as a formal declaration before an authorized official, such as a notary public, by someone who signs a document and confirms that the signature is authentic. The New Mexico Notary Public Handbook and the Indiana Notary Public Guide both provide more detailed yet similar definitions for an acknowledgement.

The Texas Secretary of State's notary public website defines a jurat as a certification added to an affidavit or document stating when, where, and before whom such affidavit was made. The New Mexico Notary Public Handbook provides a more detailed definition for a jurat, while the Indiana Notary Public Guide provides a definition similar to the one used by Texas.

As a notary public, if you are presented with a document to notarize, and the document does not include a notarial certificate, you may not proceed until the signer adds a notarial certificate to the document or chooses one from your notarial certificate inventory. Unless you are an attorney, you cannot choose for the signer which notarial certificate to add.

The American Association of Notaries sells pads and notary stamps with both acknowledgements and jurat certificates that can be easily attached or stamped to documents that are missing notarial certificates.

Whether you choose the notarial certificate notary stamps or the notarial certificate pads, your clients will certainly appreciate you showing up to the appointment well prepared. Always remember, unless you are an attorney, avoid the unauthorized practice of law. Furthermore, keep in mind that a document, even if it is signed and stamped by a notary, is not valid unless it includes a completed notarial certificate.

-- Phyllis Traylor, U.S. Army Retired is a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries

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