Finding General Notary Work

Updated 11-17-17. Mobile Notaries around the country often ask how they can to increase their income. While most mobile Notaries take on loan-signing assignments, the up-and-down nature of the mortgage industry makes it difficult to earn a decent living from that type work alone.

The answer is simple: Find general Notary work, and it’s easier than you think. Here are just a few suggestions that can help anyone in any area of the country locate general Notary work.

Posting Your Business Profile

Place a profile on a Notary community page like These types of Notary community page sites allow you to tell the general public a little more about yourself and the value you can bring to them as a professional Notary in their area.

Your profile should include your professional experience and qualifications, a professional headshot and your contact information. Your profile also should explain the types of services you offer and why you are the right choice. A good profile will allow potential customers to find you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tell People You Are A Notary

By far this is one of the best and simplest ways to start bringing in general Notary work. It’s also one of the easiest ways to lose income. Let me give you an example. A friend of mine owns a pet care business in a local office park. She’s also a Notary. I stopped by for a visit one day and as I was leaving her office, came across a gentleman who saw my Notary business logo on my shirt.

It turns out he was an insurance agent with an office just a few feet from my friend’s. He started asking me questions about my Notary service. Then he asked for my contact information because he has several clients who would need my service.

Afterward, my friend came out and said that had never told him or anyone else in her building that she was a Notary. As a result, she was losing key opportunities to expand her business.

Wearing a shirt with your business logo, or putting a sign on your car or office door let’s people know that you are available to notarize their documents.

Make The Rounds Of Local Businesses

Contact hospitals and assisted living facilities and let them know that you are a professional mobile Notary public. Because people are living longer, assisted living and retirement communities are an excellent places to get your name out. In every part of the country, people in these facilities need Notary services. This opens up the door for you to get more business.

Contact local banks, law firms, car dealerships and insurance companies. These types of businesses have come to depend more and more on professional mobile Notaries to meet the needs of their clients. Partnering with Notaries allows these businesses to stay competitive and conduct business in a seamless manner. If a business is not familiar with what you do, take the opportunity to explain how they can increase their efficiency by using your services. This also will highlight yourself as an expert, which will make it more likely that you will be the first person they call for Notary services.

Network With Other Notaries

It might seem counterintuitive, but networking with other professional mobile Notaries is a great way to get free referral business. This allows you to get to know other professionals in your area and advertise your business through them. There are times when most mobile Notaries have to turn down requests for any number of reasons. Being able to refer clients to each other keeps clients happy and your business thriving.

Using these techniques can really expand your business.  Please feel free to contact me if you do decide to use these techniques and let me know about your successes and/or failures.

Daniel Lewis, the NNA’s 2010 Notary of the Year, is the owner of Lewis Notary Services Inc. and a contributor to the Notary Bulletin. 

Why Becoming A Notary Is The Ultimate Side Gig

Updated 12-26-17. Whether you’re looking for promising work-from-home jobs or part-time jobs to get you out of the house, you should consider becoming a Notary first. Think of it as the side gig that keeps on giving because the credibility you earn by having a Notary commission opens the door to more than a dozen additional money-making opportunities. Being a Notary shows that you have integrity and it establishes a level of trust that gives you a leg up on your competition – even if you’re not directly using your commission for every freelance job that comes your way.

Here’s a list of 14 side gigs where your Notary skills will help you succeed.

Work-From-Home Jobs

Virtual Assistant: Offer virtual assistant services as an independent contractor or apply with a virtual assistant company for work-at-home jobs. Your clients may need administrative support, creative services or technical support and you’ll be able to provide it from the comfort of your couch. Virtual assistants take on a wide range of tasks from data entry, transcriptions, and proof reading to event planning, online research and website maintenance projects.

Authorized Representative: Market yourself as a dependable resource for businesses that use authorized representatives to verify employment eligibility for their remote workers. As an authorized representative, you’ll certify that the employee presented appropriate ID and complete the Form I-9 on behalf of their employer. Even U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services thinks Notaries are a good fit for the authorized representative role. (The California Secretary of State’s office has said that California Notaries who are not qualified and bonded as immigration consultants may not complete or make the certification on Form I-9, even in a non-notarial capacity. The Secretary’s office considers Form I-9 to be an immigration form.)

Fingerprinting Service Provider: Learn how to take fingerprints using Live Scan technology. For stay-at-home jobs like this one, you’ll need a computer, a device to capture fingerprints electronically, a digital camera and a signature pad. Most U.S. law enforcement agencies use Live Scan for background checks. Fingerprint submissions are also required by a lot of licensed professions including teachers, doctors, nurses and caregivers.

Bookkeeping Clerk: Brush up on your basic math skills so you can provide a variety of freelance financial services to individuals and local businesses. Bookkeeping services include recording transactions such as billing clients and entering customer receipts, as well as updating statements, checking the accuracy of financial records and overseeing payroll. While a degree isn’t required, many businesses look for bookkeepers with professional certifications.

Part-Time Jobs Away From Home

Administrative Assistant: Tap into your communication, general office and organizational skills as an administrative assistant. Busy executives always seem to need another pair of hands to take care of their routine clerical tasks like scheduling meetings, filing, data entry, and possibly getting business documents notarized. In that case, your Notary commission would be a valuable asset on top of your detail-oriented approach to assigned tasks.

Personal Concierge: Expand your assistant work by offering personal concierge services. Those busy executives you’re helping around the office probably have a laundry list of personal errands you can handle for them too. Whether it’s booking reservations and travel or picking up dry cleaning and groceries, you can turn these everyday errands into opportunities to make a few extra dollars.

Mystery Shopper: Double down on your everyday errands by becoming a mystery shopper. While you’re taking care of personal concierge tasks, you may be able to report back on certain shopping experiences with companies seeking customer feedback. Like Notaries, the demand is high for mystery shoppers who are punctual, observant and detail-oriented.

Rideshare Driver: Hop in your car and join the growing network of rideshare drivers. Because you set your own driving schedule, you can make some cash during the downtime between Notary assignments. Uber and Lyft are the two most common app-based ridesharing services. And new competitors roll-in regularly, like RideAustin, a non-profit service currently being tested in the City of Austin, Texas.

Field Inspector: Sign up to work for national field service firms. Field inspectors are used in a variety of industries to take photos and verify information like accurate addresses or real estate occupancy or that a business has its license. You can create your own field inspector starter kit with a few simple items: A smartphone with a good camera and internet access, a tape measure, a clipboard and a pen or two.

Exam Proctor: Get a background check and register as a mobile exam proctor. Proctors meet up with students who need to take tests at a location outside of their home. As a proctor, you identify the student to make sure they are who they say they are, and supervise the exam to make sure the student doesn’t cheat. This process creates a level of trust in the test results similar to the kind of trust Notaries bring to the records they notarize.

Remote Testimony Witness: Put your Notary skills to work as a remote testimony witness. Some small claims courts allow phone testimony in certain cases where a witness cannot be present – for example, people who are suffering from an illness or disability or can’t take time off work to appear. Notaries are a great fit for the remote swearing-in process because they’re appointed by the state to properly identify people, serve as impartial witnesses and administer oaths.

DNA Witness: There’s no need for lab goggles or a science degree…just your stellar identification skills and ability to be an impartial witness. DNA collection and testing is necessary in situations ranging from routine paternity issues to establishing people are biological relatives in certain immigration cases. As a DNA witness, you verify the client’s identity, witness them swab their own mouth using a DNA collection kit and mail the sample to the contracting company.

Wedding Officiant: Keep something old, new, borrowed and blue on hand for your client’s special day. As a wedding officiant, you perform the ceremony, help complete the wedding documents and file them with the right vital records division afterward. You’ll need a separate license to perform marriages in most states, but some states list it as one of a Notary’s official duties. The requirements may also vary for religious, non-denominational and civil ceremonies.

Process Server: Stop watching Law & Order and help deliver justice in real life. As a process server, you’ll deliver documents, such as subpoenas, to people involved with court-related matters. You’ll need to do some research into your state’s current laws because you may need to get a background check, file a surety bond, take a test, pay an application fee or pay for a process server license.

As always, review your state’s laws. Don’t forget to check your state, county and city rules about business licenses and operating a business out of your home. You may also want to consult an accountant about your home office setup to make sure you’re following IRS guidelines.

If you’re still on the fence, there are more reasons why you should become a Notary. As a state-appointed public official, you protect consumers by witnessing and authenticating the signing of mortgages, adoption papers and several other crucial transactions. You may find the part-time work so rewarding that you want to transition into offering full-time Notary Public services. Check out our free, step-by-step guide to learn how to become a Notary in your state.

Alternate Income Opportunity: Mobile Exam Proctors

Though the mortgage market is sluggish, there’s a growing field with work potential for Notaries seeking to supplement their primary careers and make extra money — proctoring exams for online students.

Many educational institutions are expanding their curriculum to allow students to take classes and study online. But when it comes to taking tests, it’s still essential to have a physical proctor present to ensure students don’t cheat, said Andrew Davis, program manager for SmarterProctoring, an educational service that helps online school programs locate qualified proctors for their tests.

Davis said that when a student takes tests for an online course, typically the student is required to take the test outside the home — at a library, business or anywhere outside the residence with an Internet connection. To ensure academic integrity, a mobile proctor is typically assigned to meet the student at the testing location. Notaries are well-qualified to serve as proctors.

Though proctoring does not require a Notary commission, many Notaries are background checked, whether through the commissioning process as in California or individually as part of working as a signing agent — and a background check is the key qualification for a proctor. “A background check lets the school know the Notary is a model citizen. The student knows the Notary is trustworthy and can be comfortable,” Davis said.

The typical fee for proctoring an exam is $25-30 per hour. Availability of assignments varies, but can range from 10-20 exams per semester, according to Davis. “I don’t think people will give up their other work for proctoring, but depending on the Notary, it can be a nice way to earn supplemental income,” he said.

SmarterProctoring is currently looking for proctors, and anyone interested should ​register for possible assignments. There is no charge to register, Davis said. Students who need a proctor submit a request, which includes their offered proctor fee and three appointment options. The prospective proctor is then offered the assignment.

A Notary’s Role In Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

In Montana, as in every other state, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of elder financial exploitation. What is particularly concerning is that these crimes are often committed with a Notary Public as an active, though sometimes unwitting, accomplice. This is certainly not the role Notaries should play in our society.

One recent case involved an elderly lady with dementia whose son used her power of attorney to sell her home and drain her bank accounts of over $240,000. She was left destitute — dependent on Medicaid and state-funded nursing care — a far cry from the well-planned and comfortable golden years she and her recently deceased husband had worked and saved for during their 60 years of marriage.

How was the Notary involved in this crime? She admitted to the authorities that she had notarized the power of attorney even though the son was forcibly directing his mother to sign the document when she had no idea what she was doing. By the time the crime was discovered, the son had squandered most of the money and left the country. The banks, the title company, and the other institutions involved in this case all absolved themselves of accountability for the same reason: They relied upon the notarized power of attorney as sufficient authorization for the transactions carried out by her “lawful” agent. And the Notary? Her defense was that she thought all she had to do was identify the elderly woman as the signer of the documents.

Protecting the Public

The National Notary Association advocates that Notaries, as public officials, play a key role in protecting the public. In the NNA’s White Paper, “Why Notarization Is More Relevant and Vital Than Ever,” published in 2011, the case was made that Notaries in the 21st century lend credibility and legitimacy to documents requiring the imprimatur of the Notary Public. The final paragraph summed up the message well:

“Properties are conveyed, contracts are honored, adoptions are finalized, estate plans are established and medical wishes are respected — all because documents bearing the authenticating signature and seal of a Notary Public are trusted. The notarial act is the foundation of trust and the Notaries who perform them are Society’s guarantors of integrity and authenticity.”

Those very elements of trust, integrity, and authenticity are called into question by some of the most egregious instances of elder financial exploitation, like the one above.

Sadly, elder financial exploitation is often committed by family members and caregivers — the people who should be most protective of the welfare of these vulnerable individuals. These crimes are particularly heinous because they are deliberate and premeditated, and frequently the damages cannot be recovered in time to help the victims.

A man who claimed to be a caregiver for an elderly gentleman in a small town in Montana is now facing over twenty years in prison for multiple counts of elder abuse and financial exploitation. A friend of the caregiver, who notarized several of the documents purportedly involved in the scheme, is also under investigation for her part in defrauding the victim of assets and property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the heart of the state’s prosecution is the contention that the victim was mentally incompetent to handle his affairs, and the caregiver and his accomplice stole his entire estate by means of documents that were forged and fraudulently notarized. The trial is scheduled for early next year.

With the proliferation of identity theft and the billions of dollars in cost to individuals and society at large, Notaries, of course, must diligently focus on demanding the signer’s physical presence and proof of the signer’s identity. That isn’t all though; the Notary should determine that the signer is intentionally signing the document and is aware of what the document is. The NNA’s Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility, Guiding Principle III, states:

“The Notary shall require the presence of each signer and oath-taker in order to carefully screen each for identity and willingness, and to observe that each appears aware of the significance of the transaction requiring a notarial act.”

Unfortunately, while Notaries are diligent in assuring that grandma is physically in their presence and is indeed the person named in the documents, they often do not realize that they should apply the standard of reasonable care to assessing grandma’s ability to knowingly and willingly sign those documents as well. Most states’ Notary laws don’t specifically require Notaries to do so. However, to protect the public in general and our eldest citizens in particular, it is imperative that Notaries take the extra step to verify that signers of powers of attorney and other high-value documents have voluntarily signed their names and understood what their documents mean if the trust that is implied by the notarial seal is to be maintained.

There are a number of things that Notaries can do to become a force in preventing elder financial exploitation and abuse.

Become Educated

Professor Emeritus Malcolm Morris of the Northern Illinois University College of Law, in his presentation during the NNA 2014 Conference in Phoenix, issued a challenge for Notaries to educate themselves when he noted that Notaries have the choice to become either “functionaries or professionals.” A functionary does the minimum; a professional takes the time to learn as much about the duties and responsibilities of the office as possible and prepares for handling unusual and complex situations before they arise. This is particularly necessary for preventing elder financial exploitation.

Professional Notaries should become familiar with the kinds of documents most commonly involved in elder exploitation. Learning the differences between the types of powers of attorney (general, limited, durable and medical) and knowing the types of documents that are used to transfer property (quitclaim deeds, deeds of trust/warranty deeds, titles) prepares the Notary to perform the requested notarization with confidence and a basic comprehension of the potential consequences of the document being signed. It’s not necessary to have extensive knowledge about these documents; simply having a general understanding of their purpose creates a strong foundation for the professional Notary, who can then be extra vigilant when signers present themselves
for notarization.

It’s also important for Notaries to recognize that not every situation of possible elder financial exploitation involves the elderly person directly. As shown by the two examples above, the initial fraud occurred when an enabling document — the power of attorney — was negligently or fraudulently signed and then notarized. Subsequently, the document was used by the agent to sign other documents, many requiring notarization, to perpetrate additional crimes.

In order to thwart those secondary frauds, Notaries must know and follow their state’s regulations about verifying an agent’s authority to sign in a representative capacity. Some states, like Montana, require that a Notary must verify the signer’s capacity before notarizing a document signed by an attorney in fact, trustee, or guardian. However, in most states, Notaries are not explicitly required to do this.

It must be noted that some states’ statutes are silent on this matter and other states specifically prohibit Notaries from requesting authorizing documents. Every Notary must know exactly what his or her state expects regarding the verification of an agent’s authority and capacity to sign on behalf of another person or entity, and then must act accordingly.

Assess the Situation

It is often difficult to determine the potential for abuse. Like many of the situations that Notaries face, reality doesn’t always match the model circumstances. Professional Notaries must know what the warning signs are and prepare themselves in advance to deal with the complex and unusual conditions that can occur when dealing with elderly signers or those who are signing on their behalf.

Some of the red flags include:

  • Someone other than the signer requests the notarization
  • You have been told that the signer is sedated or medicated
  • The signer appears confused, lethargic, tired or sleepy
  • The signer appears reluctant to sign the document
  • A friend or family member seems to be pressuring the signer to execute the documents
  • The signer/agent seems to be in a rush or hurry to have the notarization completed

Not every one of the above situations is always a problem, of course; for instance, it’s not that unusual for a person to ask if you will notarize something for a spouse or a friend. Yet when an adult child unknown to the Notary asks the Notary to come to an elderly parent’s home to notarize end of life documents, the Notary should be more alert for signs pointing to the possibility of fraud.

Manage the Notarization

Once the signers present themselves for the notarization, it’s critical for the Notary to assume control of the notarial process by directing it from start to finish. Unless witnesses are needed, the Notary should seriously consider removing everyone but the signer from the room. This offers the Notary a one-on-one opportunity to directly assess the signer’s awareness and intention to sign the document and to confirm that the signer is free from duress or pressure to sign the documents. This experience culminates in the signer either acknowledging his or her signature to the Notary or swearing to any required oath for the notarization.

Remember, performing a notarization is not an Olympic speed event. Points aren’t earned for completing a notarial certificate in record time. Don’t let the customer or other impending duties pressure you into rushing through the process. Take the time necessary to ascertain what you need to know and to explain to the signer what you are doing. Ultimately, this will ensure that you perform the notarization properly.

Create the Record

The final way that Notaries can combat elder financial exploitation is to complete a detailed record of the transaction. The journal entry is the official record of the transaction, and together with the notarial certificate on the document itself, provides confirmation that the document was properly signed or acknowledged in the presence of the Notary by the signer or legally authorized representative, who willingly executed the document for its intended purpose.

A Notary who records the specific details of the event in a journal provides invaluable information should a future challenge arise about the legitimacy of the transaction. It is not necessary to limit the entries in your journal to only those elements required by law or those suggested by best practices. Think of your journal as your diary and include any data that you think might be important if there would ever be a question about the transaction or the notarization. For example, you might want to record that the notarization was requested by the signer’s caregiver; that the caregiver was excused from the room before the notarization took place; who, if anybody else was present; that you visited with the signer for several minutes and determined that he/she was aware of the document, indicated that he/she understood its purpose, and intended to sign it for that purpose. That’s great contemporaneous evidence to complement the notarial certificate!

As the “guarantors of integrity and authenticity” Notaries Public can and should play a critical role in deterring, preventing, and combatting the scourge of elder financial exploitation. A notarized document should always be a shield, not a weapon, in the fight against elder financial abuse.

5 Tips When Notarizing For Medical Patients

Updated 7-10-17. Notarizing for medical patients can be among the most challenging assignments to complete, and often requires far more than basic Notary skills.

Clients in healthcare facilities can be very ill, heavily medicated or otherwise impaired, which means the notarization could require extra time, compassion and skill.

Often, patients who need to sign documents have issues with alertness, positive identification, signing ability and other challenges you won’t find covered in your Notary handbook.

In this setting, clients are at their most vulnerable. They’re often stuck in a room with equipment connected to them that beeps or buzzes; arm bands or leg stockings that squeeze their limbs; and IV bags hanging on poles, etc. They may be lying down, draped in a gown and thin blanket, and not physically or mentally at their finest.

In this situation, they may need significant documents notarized, such as powers of attorney, which gives another person temporary or long-term power to make their medical or financial decisions. Here are tips for notarizing documents for clients in hospitals, hospices and other healthcare facilities:

1. Schedule Extra Time For Hospital Notarizations

Consider total time versus uninterrupted time. After you find parking, which is usually not near the entrance of the facility, you may walk through a maze of hallways and elevators. There will likely be staff interruptions for taking vitals, making notes and conducting medical procedures, such as X-rays and changing IVs. Book a realistic amount of time for the appointment so that you won’t rush the client or be tempted to take shortcuts.

2. Speak To An Alert Signer

You should always make sure your signer is alert and aware of what’s going on before completing the notarization. Engaging your client in everyday conversation, as well as asking casual questions about the document, should help you decide if it is appropriate to proceed. If you are unsure, look to a nurse or social worker to see if there’s anything prohibiting them from signing. Follow the best practice of noting your client’s behavior and awareness in your journal.

If the signer’s family or other visitors are causing any kind of commotion, you might ask them to step out momentarily to ensure the signer is not being pressured or directed.

3. Know Guidelines For Alternatives To Full Signatures

Your client’s medical condition may make signing the document difficult. Make sure you’re familiar with your state’s guidelines regarding alternatives to a full signature. If witnesses are present and available, you may be able to have the patient sign with a mark, such as an “X” or even a thumbprint. If your signer is unable to sign, your state’s laws may allow the patient to direct another person to sign his or her name.

4. Understand The Alternatives To ID Documents

Many patients do not have their ID with them at the hospital, making the task of verifying your signer’s identity challenging. Again, you need to know what your state’s rules and guidelines say about what is acceptable ID — especially what is an acceptable alternative to an identity document. For example, does your state make provisions for the use of credible witnesses to identify a patient? If so, what are the requirements? If not, what other alternatives are there? When in doubt, call the NNA Hotline for assistance.

Taking assignments at medical facilities requires a little extra flexibility. Being fully prepared — down to bringing extra tools such as a clipboard and special pens for patients with arthritic or damaged hands — will go a long way toward making these types of appointments as streamlined and flawless as if performed in an office setting.

5. Know The Requirements Of The Facility

Apart from the Notary-related requirements, it also is helpful to ask about any non-notarial rules so you do not encounter any unexpected obstacles or legal issues that impact the acceptance of the document.

For example, if you go to a nursing home or long-term care facility in California to notarize an Advance Health Care directive, the signing must be witnessed by a patient advocate called an ombudsman. This person ensures that the patient understands what they are signing, is alert and agrees with the health care decisions detailed in the document. Without this special witness, the directive will not be honored at the facility and could be challenged at another facility.

Most other states have similar requirements. So it’s advisable to find out what type of document you’re expected to notarize ahead of time because ombudsmen are not employed by the facility and generally only work by appointment.

Psychiatric and behavioral centers also may have special requirements. Some facilities have policies barring patients from signing documents because they may be in an altered state or taking psychotropic medications. Either of these situations would impair their ability to make informed decisions. Some facilities will not allow you beyond the front desk.

For these assignments, check with the facility directly about their policies. The person hiring you may not be aware of them or may have inaccurate information.

If policy is not an issue, take extra care screening the signer for willingness and awareness, and make sure to document the steps you take in this environment. I ask for a doctor’s verification that the patient can sign for themselves before proceeding.

Notary Tip: How To Be Prepared For Signers With Special Needs

Over the years, I have notarized many documents for signers with physical impairments and other special needs. Those experiences taught me that I need more than my Notary stamp and journal to accommodate the requirements of the notarization.

It’s always important to be familiar with your state’s requirements and guidelines for dealing with special needs signers. But without a few additional tools, the notarization might come to a halt. Here are a few items I keep with me to be prepared for signers with different needs.

Visually Impaired Signers

One of the more common challenges with visually impaired signers is helping them to sign in the right space — on the document and in your journal. A signature guide card will help with this. This card is about the size of a business card and has the bottom third open to expose the document signature area. This creates a small lip around the space for the signature that the signer can feel with their pen to help them stay in the space without assistance. A signature card can typically be obtained from a support group for the visually impaired.

Physically Impaired Signers

Those who cannot sign their names due to physical impairment may sign with a mark instead. For the Notary, the most important tool in these situations is your state Notary handbook or similar reference. Having the contact information for the NNA Hotline also can be very helpful. That’s because the requirements for signature by mark can be very specific. For example, how many witnesses are required to observe the signing? Are the witnesses required to sign the document or the Notary’s journal? What are the requirements for noting the signature by mark on the document? Is a signature by proxy allowed for signers who cannot make a mark?

If the signer is physically unable to make a mark with a pen, they still may use a thumbprint or fingerprint as their mark. So it would be helpful to have an ink pad ready.

If your state requires you to include a statement about how the document was signed, you can generally meet that requirement by purchasing a stamp with the necessary wording.

Hearing Impaired

In notarizing for the hearing impaired, it is important to confirm I can communicate directly with my signer. If an interpreter is required then I am not the Notary for them. However, if they can write notes to me, then I can notarize their signature. So it’s a good idea to always carry a pen and notepad with you.


Many seniors do not need extra accommodation just because they are older. But I keep these tools in my bag just in case they do:

  • Extra-large-barrel pens and other ergonomically designed writing instruments, such as Penagains;
  • Over-the-counter reading classes 2.0 and 3.0; and
  • A clipboard, for those times when your signer cannot sit at a desk or table.

You may not need these tools when dealing with signers with special needs. But if you have them available, you’ll be able to handle most situations that arise.

Laura Biewer owns At Your Service Mobile Notary in Modesto, California. She also teaches seminars for the National Notary Association and is a regular presenter at the NNA’s annual Conferences.

Related Articles:

Ensuring Successful Notarizations For Hospital And Rehab Patients

A Notary’s Role In Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

What Would You Do Answers: When A Signer Says She Didn’t Want To Sign

Additional Resources:

NNA Webinars: Commonly Asked Questions

State Law Summaries

Notary Law Primer

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.

What Would You Do Answers: When Your Signer Dies

Last week we shared an actual situation in which a gravely ill signer died before the Notary could complete the certificate. The woman, who was physically impaired and confined to her bed, used a signature by mark to sign the document, and two witnesses also signed. The woman also was lucid enough to satisfy the Notary that she was aware of what she was signing and was willing to do so.

What You Said

Our Notary community weighed in on the situation and offered many thoughtful responses:

“The purpose of a Notary is to verify the identity of the signer and then to witness [that] the … document is signed,” said Dorothy Melton. “That actually did transpire. I would verify that I did exactly that. The seal is simply a verification that the transaction occurred.”

Christine Wissbrun also said she would complete the notarial certificate because the Notary ascertained that the signer was of ‘sound mind’ and had signed the document, which was witnessed by two people.

“I would have had my Notary journal entry completed first, including the signer’s mark and information,” Wissbrun added. “After the notarial certificate was completed, I would make detailed notes as to the events leading up to the signer passing away because inevitably an heir or a relative that may not benefit from the transaction would most likely challenge the document signing.”

David Gordon agreed. “I would complete the notarization and make a detailed note in the journal. The certificate is declaring facts concerning the actual execution of the document: the signer was physically in the presence of the Notary and witnesses, was identified by the Notary and signed in the presence of the Notary and witnesses, and, finally, the witnesses were also identified and signed at the signer’s request and in her presence and the Notary’s presence.”

Most commenters said they would complete the certificate. A few mentioned the need to collect their fee, and one said they would not complete the certificate because the fee had not been paid.

NNA Recommendations

Generally speaking, the Notary should complete the certificate — for the reasons our community mentioned. The certificate provides evidence that the notarial act has already taken place:

  • The signer appeared before the Notary;
  • The signer provided satisfactory evidence of identity; and
  • The signer verified that the signature on the document was theirs.

Even though the signer passed away before the certificate was completed, the Notary could still complete it because everything in it would still be true. Every certificate is always written in the past tense, because the notarial act has already occurred.

However, for California Notaries, this situation could represent a gray area because the Secretary of State has said that all steps of a notarization must be completed in the presence of the signer. It could be argued that once the signer dies, you are no longer in her presence.

The suggestion of some commenters — to make detailed notes of the situation in your Notary journal — is a very good idea. Because trust documents typically direct how a person’s assets are to be distributed after they die, this document could easily become embroiled in a legal case regardless of what you choose to do.

Collecting the fee also could pose a delicate situation. Assuming that the signer contracted for the Notary’s services, nobody else is responsible for paying the fee. Depending on your state laws, it may be possible to ask for payment in advance.

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.

What Would You Do Answers: The Case Of The Covered-Up Face

Verifying the identity of signers arguably is one of a Notary’s most important duties. The scenario we posed last week, in which a female signer wears a head covering in accordance with her religious beliefs that prevents you from seeing her face. That presents a challenge: As much as you want to respect her religious beliefs, how do you verify her identity if you cannot compare her ID photo to her face?

What You Said

More than 130 members of our Notary community weighed in on this issue, with many offering practical and thoughtful responses. Several commenters noted that the signer was able to show her face to have her ID photo taken, and saw that as an opening to verify her identity.

“Being mindful and respectful of religious beliefs is paramount,” wrote Najah Tamargo. “I would offer to take her into a separate room to reveal her face, or (make) any other accommodation that she would require. If she still refused, I would have to politely explain the rules and why I would not be able to complete a notarial act without being able to properly identify her.”

Notary J.D. Walker said he would take a similar approach. However, he acknowledged that she may be reluctant to go into private with him because he is a man. “I’d refer her to a female Notary in that case. The need to identify a signer must be satisfied. If she can’t show me her face to compare with the ID, then I can’t do the notarization.”

“In my state, (credible) identifying witnesses could be used for the identification, but they would need to be personally known to the Notary, which seems unlikely in this case,” noted David Gordon. “A notation as to the circumstances should also be made in the journal.”

Jolene Forzetting also suggested using two credible identifying witnesses to verify her identity, “as long as I was able to see their faces and verify their identities.”

I would ask for alternate ID and require a thumbprint for verification,” Notary Ima wrote.

If the signer were reluctant to show her face, Notary Sandra wrote that she “would ask for a second identification and compare the signatures on both. Plus, I would request an affidavit from a (credible identifying) witness verifying the client’s identity.”

NNA Recommendations

Given our multi-cultural society, situations like this are becoming more common. This scenario is a reminder that Notaries should think through how to handle such circumstances before they happen.

Many of the solutions commenters suggested are good options. However, there are limits to what you can do. Most state Notary laws describe the methods you may use to identify signers, and you cannot deviate from what the law allows.

In the actual event, the Notary had the signer swear an oath that she was the person described on the ID. Unfortunately, this is not an acceptable method of verifying the signer’s identity. The same is true of requesting a thumbprint. No state authorizes you to use a thumbprint to verify identity.

In the scenario, because the signer has a state-issued ID, you can ask what accommodations were made by the agency that took her ID photo. If you can reasonably make similar accommodations, ask if that would allow her to show you her face.

If you are a male Notary, and that is an issue for her, recommend a female Notary, as several commenters suggested.

If these options won’t work, using one or more credible identifying witnesses might — depending on the state. But make sure to follow the requirements of your state. In California and Florida, for example, identifying witnesses must swear that the signer does not have an acceptable ID. Since the Notary in this case viewed the woman’s ID, credible witnesses likely would have difficulty swearing or affirming that the woman didn’t have an acceptable ID.

If none of these options works for your signer, you’d have to refuse to perform the notarization.

Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.