The signer must be in the physical presence of the notary before the notary may lawfully notarize. This rule of law is not discretionary. The notary certifies that a signature is made willingly and freely by determining the signer's state of mind and intent. This is accomplished by talking to every signer, asking key questions and being aware of pressure by anyone else. The notary should refuse to notarize signatures made under coercion, duress or undue influence.
Never take the acknowledgment of a person who does not speak the English language unless the nature and effect of the instrument to be notarized is translated into a language which the person does speak.
Use a photo I.D. or a credible witness if necessary to establish the signer's identity. If dealing with a minor child, determine if the child is authorized to sign the document. The signer should print his/her name after his/her signature.
When notarizing a signature made by a mark, use a witness familiar with the signer. The witness should write the marker's name by the mark. The witness should sign the notary journal and the notary should make a special note.
If there are multiple signatures on a document, and only some of the signers appear before the notary, the notary should indicate exactly whose signature was witnessed. Sometimes a notarial certificate will be provided for each signature, if not, the notary should amend the notarial certificate to show only the signature of the person who appeared. However, the notary should not alter the document above the notarial certificate other than to cross through blank lines. Alterations should be initialed and dated.
If a notary is asked to certify that a copy is a correct copy, the person presenting it should sign a sworn statement that he/she made the copy and that it is true and correct. Then the signature on the sworn statement may be notarized in the usual way.
There are three preferred ways to verify a signer's identity:
- The notary's personal knowledge;
- Confirmation by a credible witness; or
- Valid identification documents.
The safest and best way to verify a signer's identity is by personal knowledge. This kind of verification does not require witnesses or identification documents.
The second way to verify a signer's identity is through confirmation by a credible witness. The credible witness must have a reputation for integrity, understand the transaction and be impartial in the transaction. It is important to maintain an unbroken chain of personal knowledge. The notary must personally know the witness. The credible witness must personally know the document signer. The notary, the credible witness and the document signer must all be present when notarization occurs. The notary places the credible witness under oath before the document is signed.
The third way to verify a signer's identity is through valid identification documents. The notary should take reasonable care in examining I.D. cards or papers. There are three features of the I.D. card or papers which should be considered:
- Photograph of the bearer;
- Accurate physical description of the bearer; and
- Signature of the bearer.
There are three ways identification can be falsified:
- By counterfeit;
- By imposter; or
- By document alteration.
When presented suspicious identification, the notary should refuse to accept it and should refuse to notarize for that person.