Editor’s Note: Each month during 2010, the Notary Bulletin will spotlight one guiding principle from The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility, in random order, to help guide you when your state’s statutes, regulations and official directives fall short.
While most state Notary laws are inconsistent in aspects like seal requirements, recordkeeping and mandatory education, there is one key area in which they are united: The requirement that a document signer and any witness identifying the signer be present before a Notary at the time of the notarization. Personal Appearance is the cornerstone of Notarization, making Guiding Principle III of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility one of the most vital principles in a Notary’s standard of care:
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.
Requiring personal appearance allows a Notary to achieve several transaction security measures. It allows you to verify the signer’s identity by examining their identity documents; it allows you to screen the signer for willingness and awareness; it allows you to communicate directly with the signer; and, in cases where credible identifying witnesses or subscribing witnesses are used, it allows you to properly identify them and administer an oath, if necessary. Failure to require personal appearance is a violation of law.
“There is no basic rule whose violation is more likely to get Notaries in big trouble than the rule that a document signer must always appear in person before the Notary at the time of notarization,” said NNA Vice President of Notary Affairs Charles N. Faerber.
All Notaries must realize that a faulty notarization is dangerous to the public and, increasingly, Notaries are finding that even one improperly handled notarization — no matter how innocent it may seem — can land you on the wrong side of a lawsuit, or even lead to criminal charges. And personal appearance is arguably the most violated essential best practice, putting countless transactions at serious risk.
In Colorado, for example, the state’s focus has been on educating Notaries to help them protect the public and avoid costly mistakes — and for good reason. In 2008, 33 percent of reported violations of the state’s Notary Public Act involved Notaries who failed to require personal appearance of the signer. That number shot up to 44 percent in 2009.