A Guide To Notarizing For Physically Impaired Signers

Updated 9-13-17. There may be times when you encounter someone who is physically unable to write their name. It could be the result of any number of medical conditions, but that doesn’t mean the notarization comes to a halt. There are ways for Notaries to accommodate the physical impairment.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Powers Of Attorney And Representative Signers

In some situations, another person may be given power of attorney to sign documents on behalf of the disabled individual. This other person is known as a “representative signer” or “attorney in fact” (though the representative does not necessarily have to be an actual lawyer).

In these cases, the notarization would be performed normally, but you are notarizing the signature of the representative signer. They would present proof of identity, and their name would be entered in the Notary certificate. However, be aware that in most cases a representative signer can’t swear an oath or affirmation in the name of the disabled individual.

Some states, such as Colorado and Nevada, require Notaries to use special certificate wording when notarizing for a representative signer. Oregon, Hawaii, Montana and Utah require the representative signer to show the Notary proof that they have the authority to sign on behalf of the person in question.

Signature By Mark

If the signer is alert, coherent and appears willing to sign — but can’t write a full signature due to an injury or other physical impairment — the signer can make an ‘X’ or similar mark unassisted in lieu of a signature. This is called “signature by mark,” which many states permit. For a signature by mark, the signer does not have to write out a full name. Instead, they make an ‘X’ or similar mark in front of witnesses, which can then be notarized.

You can notarize a signature by mark, however, there will need to be witnesses to the signature. Depending on the state, you may need one or two witnesses. If the signer wishes to use a signature by mark, make sure to follow your state’s requirements about the procedures. For example, California requires two witnesses be present if a signer wishes to make a signature by mark. In California, the witnesses to a signature by mark do not need to present identification for themselves unless they are also serving as credible identifying witnesses vouching for the signer’s identity.

When using signature by mark, the signer must be able to make the mark on their own. Neither you nor a third party may physically hold and ‘guide’ the signer’s hand to help them make a signature. If someone asks you or another person to do this, you must tell them no.

Let Someone Else Sign For The Impaired Person

If the customer is completely unable to write or make a mark, some states permit the Notary or another individual present to sign the document as directed by the customer. This is sometimes called signature by proxy. For example, if a person in Florida who is physically unable to sign wants the Notary to sign on their behalf, the signing must take place in the disabled person’s presence, with two other witnesses present who have no interest in the document being notarized. Texas also allows a Notary to sign on a disabled person’s behalf, but only requires one disinterested witness to be present.

Montana does not allow a Notary to sign on behalf of a disabled person, but a disinterested third party may sign by proxy if the instruction is given in person by the disabled individual and in the presence of the Notary.

If you’re not certain how to proceed, contact your state Notary regulating agency or the NNA Hotline for help.

If There Are No Options Available, Don’t Proceed

If the requirements for alternative methods of signing cannot be met, then do not proceed with the notarization. The customer will need to contact an attorney or other agency qualified to provide legal advice on acceptable alternatives to signing the document.

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

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