When to Refuse to Notarize

A notary or a notary public is a public officer, appointed by their state government, usually by the secretary of state, to serve the public as an impartial witness in taking acknowledgements, administering oaths and affirmations, and performing other acts authorized by law. Most states require a notary to perform notarial services as long as all legal requirements are met.

Sometimes, however, it makes sense to decline to perform a notarization. Here are four common reasons for refusing to notarize a document:

1. The criteria for notarization is not met.

As a notary, you should always refuse to notarize if the requirements for notarization are not satisfied, such as when:

  • The signer fails to personally appear before you.
  • The signer fails to provide proper identification.
  • You are not satisfied that the person appearing before you is the person shown on the identification.
  • The signer is your close relative, such as a spouse or parent.
  • You are a party to the instrument or have a financial interest in or would gain a benefit from the transaction.
  • The document does not include a notarial certificate and the signer is unable to choose one.
  • You are asked to certify a copy of a publicly recorded document or a vital record.

2. A notarization is requested outside business hours.

A notary is not expected to be at the public’s service for 24 hours a day. You can set business hours during which you will perform notarial acts and can refuse to notarize outside those hours.

In addition, your employer may restrict your services during working hours or only allow you to notarize work-related documents while at work. An employer has a good reason for doing so—if you were to notarize for the public at work, that would take time away from your work duties.

3. The notary is uncomfortable with the transaction.

Sometimes you may simply be uncomfortable with the transaction, for example when:

  • You have  suspicions  that the transaction is false or fraudulent.
  • The document is written in a foreign language you do not understand.
  • You and the signer cannot communicate due to a language barrier.
  • You suspect the principal has been coerced into signing.
  • The principal is intoxicated, confused, or does not appear to understand the contents of the document and the consequences of executing it.

4. The signer cannot pay the notary’s fees.

If the signer is unable or unwilling to pay your notarial fee, you may decline the notarization. 

When NOT to Say “No”

A notary should always be careful not to refuse to perform a notarization on grounds that could appear to be discriminatory based on:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Nationality
  • Lifestyle
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability

It is illegal to discriminate against a signer based on these grounds.

A notary also cannot refuse to notarize a document simply because he or she disagrees with its contents for political, religious, or personal reasons.

Because state laws differ greatly on this topic, we recommend you first consult your state's laws before declining a notarization. If you do decline a notarization, be sure to explain to the signer the reason you are refusing to notarize.  

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. 

Notary bonds and errors and omissions insurance policies provided by this insurance agency, American Association of Notaries, Inc., are underwritten by Western Surety Company, Universal Surety of America, or Surety Bonding Company of America, which are subsidiaries of CNA Surety.