An old Notary seal is like your checkbook — it’s not something you can just toss in the trash and forget about afterwards. Notaries in 41 states are required to have a seal or stamp. That means most of you will need to get rid of an expired seal when your commission expires — more than once if you renew your commission.
You also may need to get rid of a seal stamp if you get a new one before your commission expires. This is the case for thousands of Notaries in Texas who have replaced their seals in recent months after the state legislature passed a law requiring new seals issued as of January 1, 2016 to include the Notary’s I.D. number.
In any event, at some point in your Notary career, you’ll have an old seal on your hands. What do you do with it? Throw it out? Turn it over to someone? Destroy it? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Don’t Just Toss It Away
Left intact, an old seal could be found and used by someone else to commit fraud. That’s why you should never throw away an intact and usable Notary seal or leave it behind when you change jobs. In the wrong hands, an expired seal could be used to create fake deeds, phony powers of attorney or other fraudulent documents. These documents could be used to steal from bank accounts, commit elder abuse or perpetrate real estate fraud.
If the fraud is discovered, and your name is found on the notarized documents, you could be sued for a bogus notarization you didn’t perform. It will be costly to retain an attorney to get you out of the lawsuit.
Turn In Your Old Seal
Some states require Notaries to turn in their seals to the commissioning official at various times or circumstances. For example, Arizona Notaries — or their personal representatives — must turn in the seals when they stop being a Notary.
The same is true for Colorado Notaries, who also must turn in their seals if they cease to have a business or residence address in the state. Hawaii Notaries or their personal representatives must turn in their seals when they stop being a Notary or change their name.
Old seals should be turned over to the appropriate agency in your jurisdiction, typically the commissioning official. If you fail to do so, you may be fined.
Destroy Your Old Seal
Some jurisdictions require you to destroy your seal; others encourage it. Georgia Notaries, for example, must destroy or deface their seal when they cease to be a Notary. That duty falls to their personal representative if the Notary dies.
In Texas, the Secretary of State asks Notaries to destroy their seal stamps when their commissions expire, or they cease to be a Notary for any other reason.
If you have an ink stamp, the easiest way to destroy it is to use a knife or other sharp object to cut and damage the rubber seal impression so that the stamp no longer makes a usable impression.
Embossers are more difficult to destroy because of their metal components. With an embosser, the metal embossing plate should be removed from the seal. It may be necessary to use a hammer or other blunt object to strike the plate and render the embossed information illegible.
If you are using tools to deface or destroy an old seal, be sure to take proper safety precautions against accidents. Examples include gloves to protect your hands from being cut by sharp objects and protective eyewear as a safeguard against debris.
One Or The Other
While most states either require you to turn in your seal or destroy it yourself, others may require both under certain circumstances. In California, Notaries must destroy or deface their seals upon resignation, termination or revocation of their commissions. However, California Notaries who are convicted of certain offenses and felonies are required to surrender their seals to the court. In Florida, if you resign your commission, you must destroy your seal unless the Governor requests that you return it.
No Rules Or Guidance
Some states are silent on what to do with old Notary seal stamps. Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky are among states that don’t provide guidance on this matter.
If you’re in one of these states, the NNA recommends that you follow The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility recommendation to destroy or deface your seal when your commission ends.
While many states have rules for disposing of seals when your commission ends, not all say what to do with a seal when you change the name on your commission. In this circumstance, too, the Code recommends destroying or defacing your seal.
How To Know?
You can find your particular state’s or jurisdiction’s requirement by downloading and reading the NNA’s State Law Summary.
Another no-cost option is to refer to your state’s Notary handbook or commissioning official’s website for the answer.
NNA members can also access the online U.S. Notary Reference Manual for state-specific instructions when turning in an obsolete seal. Members may call the NNA Hotline for a quick and accurate answer as well.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.