Notaries: Visually Scan the Document; Don't Read it Word for Word
A notary cannot complete a notarization properly without having a moment to visually scan the entire document. Seeing only a signature page is not sufficient. On the other hand, notaries should be careful not to invade signers’ private business matters. The Wyoming Secretary of State says it nicely:
“Do not invade the party's privacy. Merely identify the document to be notarized (deed, contract, etc.). Record the type of document in your notary journal. Do not notarize a document you cannot identify.”
Today, we will talk about making sure you have access to the entire document you are notarizing to collect important facts while not invading the privacy of a signer.
The Entire Document, not Just the Signature Page
The boss handed Laura a signature page with a notarial certificate. “Hey, Laura. You’re a notary. Can you sign this for me?”
A month earlier, Laura would have been in a quandary. She knew she couldn’t notarize a document by seeing only the signature page. She was aware, however, that her boss was a very private person. It would have been intimidating to argue with him that she could not notarize a document by only having access to the signature page -- he was, after all, the boss. But, today, She had the ammo she needed to get this notarization back on track.
Laura pulled out her notary journal and took out another tool; a laminated 4” x 6” card she kept with her notary gear. She placed it casually on the table where her boss could see it while she located her seal.
“Sure, Dr. Sayer” said Laura, “I’ll need to see the whole document, though. It will only take a second. I have to collect a few facts about the document for my record book.”
Dr. Sayer picked up Laura’s laminated card and looked it over. Since Laura was commissioned in Texas, it read:
Texas Gov’t Code Section § 406.014
Notaries public MUST record or personally assure the following:
- Date of notarization
- Document date
- Title (or type) of the document.
- Names of parties
- Property or assets involved
- Blanks completed throughout.
- Number of pages in document.
- No pages missing.
- Type of notarization performed
Without question, Laura’s boss went back into his office and returned with the entire document. Laura located the important facts about the document as listed on her card; she recorded them in her journal and completed the notarization.
This was not Laura’s first experience with signers who did not want her to look at the entire document. She had created the laminated list for moments like these. It helped signers understand that she didn’t want to invade their privacy, she simply had laws to uphold. By citing the exact laws that defined how she had to handle the document, she had the authority of her state to back her up.
But, Don’t Invade Privacy!
On the other hand, there are notaries who go too far. Let’s face it. Notaries are human, and by human nature, people are curious about the business of others. Signers may be sensitive about turning documents over to strangers to peruse; perhaps this is because notaries have previously overstepped boundaries and invaded their privacy.
In America, a notary notarizes a signature on a document to validate that the signature was indeed made by a certain person, as far as a prudent notary can ascertain the identity of that person. The content of the document is private and not the concern of the presiding notary public.
We’ve been told about notaries who have insisted wrongly that they must retain copies of the documents they notarize. Few circumstances require notaries to retain copies of notarized documents; certainly not routine affidavits or documents with acknowledgment acts. Some states do require notaries to keep copies of documents they certify as true copies. Unless state laws require it, though, we strongly advise against retaining copies of documents.
One of our notary members, Carole, has been bothered about invasive behavior of notaries she has encountered. She asked that we publish an article to clarify for our readers how they should handle reviewing documents before notarizing them. Carole wrote:
“I have had a few documents notarized over the years by other notaries. I would like a clear explanation on how far is too far. What I mean is that some notaries go beyond just accepting your credentials and confirming your identity; they will read the entire document before they complete the notarization.
I understand, certain documents, such as wills, etc. require extra attention in identifying the signer, but I am referring to simple, straightforward documents.
Isn’t the notary’s responsibility to verify the identity of the person signing, but NOT going over a document with a fine tooth comb and reading it word for word?”
Carole is right. Going over a document with a fine tooth comb is not a notary’s job.
How to Visually Scan a Document
Put signers at ease. Don’t keep them in the dark about what you are looking for when you hold and visually scan their private documents. You may want to make a checklist like Laura’s that cites your state’s laws about notarial records and lists the items you must record in your notary record book. Place it on the table as if you need to make sure you don’t miss any important pieces of information. Make the signer aware of your intentions so that he or she understands you are not attempting to steal private information or just being nosy.
Collect information about the document for your notary record book. You do not need to read the document; you need only visually scan it for facts you are required by law to record in your record book. Your job is to enter information in your notary record book to identify the document you are notarizing for the signers.
The most important facts that are:
- Date of notarization. That is, of course, the date you notarize the document. You will put this information in your records and the notarial certificate.
- Document date. The document date may be the date that the signer signed it (prior to appearing a notary to acknowledge it). The document date may be at the top of the document and indicate a date in the future or past. It may also be at the bottom above the signatures.
- Title (or description) of the document. If the document has no title, you will need to ascertain what type it is. For example, is the document a permission slip, sworn statement, bill of sale, private agreement, lease, or letter of intention? Tell the signer that you don’t want to pry, but you need this information.
- Names of parties. The signer is one party, but are there other parties listed? For instance, a bank, other signers, principal in a power of attorney, or other individual or entity.
- Property or assets involved. Some states require notaries to collect information on the property that is involved in a transaction.
- Number of pages in document.Make sure, to the best of your ability that the document is complete and no pages are missing.
- Type of notarial act performed. The certificate will instruct the type of notarization to perform. It will be either an oath or acknowledgment.
Record the information as you go through the document.
Scan the document for blanks. Flip through the pages; but, don’t read the document word for word. While you do so, say, “I need to make sure the are no blanks in the document and that it is complete.” If there are blanks, ask the signer to complete them before completing the notarial act.
Complete other steps of the notarization and be known as the pro that you are!
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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.
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