Steps to Proper Notarization

Notarizing for an Elderly Signer

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are over 36.8 million individuals over 65 in the United States—12% of the total population. And there are 4.9 million individuals over 85 in the United States. Many of these individuals may eventually lack the physical and/or mental capabilities to manage their everyday household chores and conduct their business affairs. In preparing for such a possibility, they may wisely create legal documentation that specifies who has the authority to act on their behalf. These documents may considerably impact the legal rights and assets of the signer, and because of this, notaries must use an even higher standard of reasonable care.

When notarizing for an elderly signer, you may encounter problems with verifying the identity of the signer because elderly signers are sometimes unable to produce a current state- or federal-issued identification card. Another dilemma notaries encounter is that an elderly signer may not have the mental competence to fully understand the nature and effect of the document being notarized. If the elderly signer is in a nursing home, retirement center, or hospital, inquire about the signer’s mental condition from the attending nurse or doctor before performing the notarial act.

An elderly signer, as any other signer, should display evidence of the following: (1) understanding of what he or she is signing, (2) being able to provide the notary with the important particulars about the document being notarized, and (3) awareness and willingness to sign the document; if an elderly signer exhibits unwillingness to sign the document, the signer may have been coerced by a family member or other third party into signing the document against his or her will. If an elderly signer cannot answer questions coherently and accurately, the notary should not perform the notarial act.

A notary public must not perform a notarial act for an elderly signer if any of the following situations occur:

  • The signer exhibits reluctance to sign the document (the signer may be under coercion by a third party or family member to sign the document against his/her will).
  • The signer is clearly incapacitated.
  • The signer exhibits inattentiveness.
  • The signer exhibits uncertainty.
  • The signer exhibits reservation about signing.
  • The signer exhibits lack of understanding regarding the nature and effect of the document being notarized.
  • There is evidence that the notarized document will be used to commit fraud.

    Sometimes the signature of an elderly signer may not be legible due to a stroke, arthritis, physical handicap, or illiteracy; but an illegible signature is nevertheless a valid signature. Notaries should record the notarial acts performed for elderly signers in a notary record book with full details regarding the notarial act, the signer’s demeanor, any special circumstances, and the notary’s observations regarding the elderly signer.

    In conclusion, notaries must adhere strictly to notarial principles and procedures by using a high standard of reasonable care for the prevention of fraud, especially when notarizing documents for elderly signers.

  • 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.