5 Common Mistakes That Can Lead To Legal Problems

Updated 2-8-17. Any mistake on a notarization has the potential to cost you money, get you into serious legal trouble or even cause you to lose your commission. The NNA asked experts in law, government and education to share some of the most commonly made errors that can land Notaries in trouble. Knowing and avoiding these common mistakes is the best way to prevent costly legal trouble when notarizing.

Failing To Require The Signer To Appear

Experts all agreed that failing to require a signer to physically appear before you is the most common mistake that lands Notaries in serious legal hot water. Notarizing without a signer’s personal appearance is a violation of law in every state and territory, and can result in major financial and legal penalties. Lori Hamm, Notary Compliance and Education Officer for the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, described a case in which a man claimed his signature was forged on a notarized quitclaim deed filed during divorce proceedings. The Notary admitted that she had done notarizations in the past where she spoke with signers by telephone to ask if they signed documents. The Notary’s commission was suspended.

Failing To Properly Record Notarizations

Too many Notaries fail to keep a record of their notarial acts, especially in states that do not require it. But that’s a problem because a properly maintained journal is your best protection if someone makes a claim against you, said California attorney Richard Busch, who has represented many Notaries in legal actions. Failing to record information in the journal when the law requires it can be a problem, too. One Notary in a state that requires a journal thumbprint neglected to obtain the signer’s thumbprint in what turned out to be a forgery. The Notary’s insurance carrier paid out a full loss on the Notary’s E&O policy.

Failing To Obtain Satisfactory Proof Of Identity From A Signer

“Unless the signer personally appears and presents a valid ID, the Notary just cannot do the notarization. Period.” Busch said. “Otherwise, they will likely end up being sued, since more than likely there is a fraud being perpetrated.”

Making Mistakes On The Notarial Certificate

While writing incorrect information on certificate wording or forgetting to write in information is often done accidentally, it’s a situation that can cause major headaches for a signer and trouble for Notaries if a problem with a document results. For example, Hamm described how if a Notary doesn’t properly complete the wording on documents for a car purchase, the buyer may not be able to take title and must spend time tracking the Notary down in order to take ownership. Be especially careful with business transactions, Hamm warned, because if someone loses money as a result, they are likely to hold the Notary responsible for any money lost. “Not paying attention to notarial wording and the law gets you in trouble,” she said.

Losing Your Seal

Letting others use your Notary seal or not properly securing your seal can be damaging. Two Notaries in different states found this out the hard way. In both cases, the Notaries’ signatures appeared on documents they denied notarizing. The only other alternatives weren’t much prettier. Either the Notaries failed to secure their seals, allowing someone else to use them, or they intentionally allowed others to improperly use them. One Notary settled out of court and the other’s insurance carrier settled the claim by compensating the victims.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

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