Keeping a consistent notary record book is the single best thing a notary can do to protect himself against allegations of misconduct. A good notary journal will include the date and time of the notarization, the type of notarial act, the name, address, signature and type of identification of the signer, and any other important notes. Even in states where a notary record book isn't required, its use is universally recommended.
The most important rule in record keeping is consistency. The notary should complete each notary journal entry legibly in pen and with all information required by law. Some states require that the notary record the signer's thumbprint in certain transactions or record the serial number of the identification of the signer. Other states, for example Texas, specifically prohibit the recording of the serial number or recording the signer’s thumbprint. In jurisdictions where a notary is not authorized to collect thumbprints in his or her record book, a notary should not refuse to notarize solely on that basis.
Because state laws regarding notary record keeping vary greatly, notaries should consult state laws for the most accurate information. However, it is recommended that a notary record all possible information to ensure that the most complete and accurate record is preserved.
Examples of additional information the notary may wish to include are the tile of the document, names of other witnesses who signed the document (including those whose signatures are not being notarized), what type of notary seal stamp was used (if the notary has more than one), and the location where the notarization was performed. Ditto marks should be used only when their intended use is clear and apparent and only when permitted by state law.
Notaries should never white-out or blacken-out incorrect information. Changes made to entries in a notary record book using correction products are not likely to be accepted in a court of law. This is especially true for entry corrections involving conveyances of real estate. The recommended correction method is to draw a single line through the incorrect information and enter the correction right above it. Place your initials by the correction to indicate that you made the correction. This method is simple, clear, and unlikely to be challenged.
Notaries must be ethical in their record keeping. They should not allow others to peruse their records, as this would violate the privacy of the notary's past customers. State laws often mandate who may access a notary's records and how they may do so, so be sure to consult your own state's laws. However, where state laws are silent on notary record book access, the recommended best practice is that only the persons listed in the journal entry should be permitted to view it, with the exception of lawful requests from governmental agencies. When allowing a customer to view a past journal entry, all other entries should be covered to prevent others' private information from being read by prying eyes. When asked to make a copy of an entry in your notary record book, copy only the requested entry and consult your state laws or commissioning authority to be sure that the requesting party is entitled to a copy.
Notaries should also not share a notary journal with any other notary. The obvious issue with this scenario is who retains the notary journal when a notary leaves his or her employer. Each notary is a public officer in his or her own right and should keep his or her own notary records.
Unless allowed by law, a notary should refuse to have two separate notary journals (i.e. one for the employer's business notarizations and one for the notary's personal notarizations). The notary journal belongs to the notary, and if a notarial act is questioned in a court of law, the notary and the not the employer will be called to testify on that specific notarial act. It is also not recommended that notaries keep more than one journal for personal use at a time. Notarial acts should be in consecutive order and using multiple journals would make it difficult to prove consecutive recordings. It is also recommended that you choose a journal that has a place for recording notarial service fees; this will eliminate the need for maintaining two separate records.
States also typically prescribe how long notary record books must be kept by the notary and how they should be disposed of or archived. Some states, such as California, require that notaries deposit their journals with the county clerk when they cease to hold commissions as notaries public. Texas requires a notary's record book be deposited with the county clerk if the notary resigns, dies in office, or is removed from office. When state laws don't address retention, the general rule of thumb is ten years from the date of the last notarization in the book. Best practice, however, would be for the notary to retain the record book permanently.
Advantages of notary record book entries:
- Obey the Law – If you don’t obey the law requiring the use of a notary record book, youmay lose your notary commission in an administrative action against you.
- Reminder – The record book is a reminder to follow all the essential steps for a notarization. For example, it will remind you to obtain identification from your clientwhen performing the notarial act.
- Compliance – If a complaint is filed against you related to a notarization that youperformed, you may rely upon the entry you made in the record book to prove that youcomplied with notary laws and properly performed your duties.
- Evidence – Record book entries may be used in court as evidence to settle adispute about a transaction.
- Memory – Appearing in court to talk about a notarization that you performed, butdon’t remember, can be intimidating. However, your record book entry can give youconfidence to testify under oath about the facts of any notarization.
- Prevention – Your use of the record book may instill customer confidence in you anddiscourage fraudulent transactions. Because of the information you will record for eachnotarization, the record book will also serve to reduce your liability as a notary.
- Bookkeeping – Recording your notary fees for each transaction will make it simpleto report your notary fees as income at the end of the year.
The notary journal is the exclusive property of the notary, and only your notarial acts should be documented in your journal. It is the notary’s responsibility to safeguard his or her notary record book.
The American Association of Notaries is happy to offer notary record books in various styles. We also offer free electronic notary record keeping to AAN members. Visit our member center at www.usnotaries.com for more information on electronic record keeping.