Identifying a Signer in a Face Covering

One of the keystones of notarization is the proper identification of the signer. The notary must always be totally satisfied as to the identity of the signer before proceeding with the notarization. But in today's world of mask-wearing, identifying a signer can be problematic, especially because there isn't one clear cut-and-dry solution to the problem.

As a public officer, a notary cannot discriminate on the basis of disability - and this can pose a problem when a notary is asked to notarize for a person who insists on wearing a face covering at all times due to a medical issue. While the COVID-19 pandemic has given the public legitimate reasons to wear a face covering, the notary still must be able to positively identify the signer.

You must always be satisfied that the person appearing before you is the person described on the identification presented.  If the notary is unable to positively identify the person appearing before them due to a face covering, the face covering should be temporarily removed - while observing social distancing - to allow the notary to fully identify the signer before proceeding. You may explain that the law requires you to confirm visually that an individual’s appearance matches the photo on his or her identification. If the signer is uncomfortable with this, you may want to suggest that he seek the services of a notary who personally knows him or of a remote online notary.

Regardless of the circumstances, the notary must be satisfied that the person appearing before him or her is the person he or she claims to be. The notary should be able to reasonably conclude that the individual in question is the person who is named in the document requiring notarization. If uncomfortable with this transaction, the notary may advise the individual that he or she isn’t able to proceed due to the lack of positive identification.

When these circumstances arise, a notary must always act with the utmost caution to ensure that he or she is not being discriminatory while also acting according to the laws. Keep in mind that some states have enacted temporary COVID rules that apply to notarizations, and these rules may have provisions related to face coverings. For this reason, notaries should always consult their own state's laws and commissioning authorities for specific questions regarding identification of persons who are wearing a face-covering.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information. However, it is important to note that the information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions. 

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