Nine Common Notary Mistakes

It is easy for both new and experienced notaries to become overwhelmed by all the steps that must be taken to ensure a proper notarization. This list of common mistakes made by notaries will serve as a reminder of things to avoid so that you can make sure your notarizations are executed flawlessly.

1- Failing to Require Personal Appearance

Personal appearance is the very foundation of notarization. Except in the few states where online or remote notarization has been legalized, personal appearance is still a requirement. This requires that the signer be physically present before the notary. Notarizing without the personal appearance of the signer is a civil infraction in most states and is even considered a felony in some states. Personal appearance allows the notary to inspect the signer’s identification, administer the oath or take the acknowledgment, and obtain the signer’s signature in the notary’s journal.

2- Failing to Properly Identify the Signer

Checking identification is a basic part of a notarization. However, it is also one of the most important. Merely looking at the identification isn't enough. The information contained on the identification should match the person appearing before you. Be sure to compare facial features such as eye color and nose or chin shape, which are unlikely to change, rather than hair length or color. You should also check that the signature on the identification is reasonably similar to the signature on the document. Where allowed by law, notate the specific type of identification inspected in your notary journal.

3- Not Knowing the Difference Between an Acknowledgment and Oath

Oaths and acknowledgments are the basic type of notarial acts permitted in all states, but many notaries aren’t sure what the difference is. An acknowledgment is a document signer’s way of acknowledging that he or she signed the document voluntarily. This can be accomplished by watching the signer sign in front of you, or by asking the signer to declare that they executed the document voluntarily. In taking an acknowledgment, it is not necessary that the signer actually sign in your presence. The document could have been signed days or even years prior. However, the signer must still personally appear and acknowledge his or her signature before you. An oath, on the other hand, requires that the signer verbally swear or affirm that the contents of the document are true. When notarizing an oath, the certificate used is called a “jurat,” and the notary must witness the signer sign the document after the oath is administered.

4- Failing to Perform the Verbal Ceremony

Many notaries simply sign and stamp notarial certificates without performing the all-important verbal ceremony. However, without the verbal ceremony, the certificate is false. The certificate is the notary's way of certifying that the act described therein has been performed. This is especially important when it comes to administering an oath. Any document with a jurat (the words "sworn to and subscribed") must be accompanied by a verbal oath. Simply instruct the signer to raise his or her right band, and ask, "Do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that the statements contained in this document are true?" The signer should then answer in the affirmative. For an acknowledgment, you may want to ask, "Do you acknowledge that you have executed this document voluntarily?"

5- Using a Non-Compliant or Non-Sensical Notarial Certificate

When completing a notarial certificate, many notaries simply look for the "blanks" and fill them in. Always read the certificate in your head to make sure that it makes sense. Also be sure to examine the certificate closely to make sure it complies with your state's laws. If a certificate doesn't make sense when read, or if it doesn't meet the requirements of your state's laws, you should correct the certificate or cross through it and attach a loose certificate, PRIOR to completing the notarization. If the certificate is a jurat, be sure to administer a verbal oath.

6- Failing to Use an Official Name and/or Signature

Notaries who perform a lot of notarizations can get tired of signing. However, in most states, when a notary is signing a certificate in his or her capacity as a notary public, the signature must match the official signature on file with the office that appointed the notary. If you signed your oath of office as "John Q. Public," it would be inappropriate to start notarizing as "J. Q. Public." Signing with an un-official signature can invalidate the notarization.

Even in states that don’t have specific signature requirements, a notary must use the name in which he was commissioned on his official seal.

7- Affixing a Notarial Seal Incorrectly

The seal is the notary’s universal symbol of authority. It authenticates the notary’s act, and almost every state requires one. It is important to ensure that rubber stamp seals are affixed in a blank space and do not cover any text. The seal is considered to be a statement of the notary’s authority and must legibly contain the elements required by state law, which most often includes the notary’s commissioned name and the date on which the notary’s commission expires. For notaries who use embossers, the embosser should be placed in a blank space unless state law requires or allows its placement on top of the notary’s signature. For documents that have the word “SEAL” or “L.S.” preprinted, your seal should be affixed near, but not over, these words.

 8- Failure to Keep Records

Even where not required by law, diligent notaries should keep a continuous, sequential journal of their notarial acts. The journal is the notary's only record of the notarization. A journal should include, at a minimum, the date and time of the notarization, a description of the document or proceeding, the name, address, signature, and type of identification produced by the signer, and a notation as to any notarial fees collected. Journals may be purchased from the American Association of Notaries.

 9- Conflicts of Interest

A notary can never notarize a document in which he or she might have a financial or other interest. For example, a notary cannot notarize a will in which he or she is named as a beneficiary. Even in states where notaries can lawfully notarize the signatures of their relatives, this practice is not recommended. A notary cannot notarize a document in which he or she is named and certainly cannot notarize his or her own signature.


Robert T. Koehler, is a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries

Legal disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries, Inc. 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 stamps and 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

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