(Originally published in the January 2013 issue of The National Notary magazine )
By David Thun, Associate Editor
Some of the toughest challenges Notaries face originate from the workplace. All too often a boss, co-worker or client will ask a Notary to skip necessary procedures in the name of expediency. Such requests can seem harmless, but they often lead to big trouble for the Notary and the Notary’s employer. The National Notary reached out to Notaries who have successfully navigated these difficult situations and asked them to share how they resolved the problem.
Standing Up For Personal Appearance
Personal appearance by a document signer before a Notary is an essential part of notarization in every state and territory — but many signers mistakenly assume that they can sign on behalf of a spouse or family member, not realizing that many cases of document fraud are committed by relatives. That’s why Notaries must always insist on a signer’s personal appearance, and how Debbie Mailin-Wurtz of Wahiawa, Hawaii, found herself in a tough dilemma at work.
Debbie’s boss was adopting a baby and asked her to notarize his signature, and the signature of his wife, on the adoption papers.
“His wife wasn’t present, but he wanted me to notarize both signatures,” Debbie said. “It was very uncomfortable when I said I could only notarize his signature.”
Debbie was in a difficult situation. Her boss was impatient to get the paperwork completed.
Debbie declined to notarize the wife’s signature. She explained to the boss that the law only permitted her to notarize his signature on the documents, since his wife was not physically present. To help him better understand why personal appearance by a signer is necessary for a notarization, she gave him a copy of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility.
No matter how hard it is to say “no” to someone going through a stressful situation, personal appearance is absolutely essential. Debbie made the right choice by obeying the law and declining to notarize the wife’s signature while she was absent. Because a Notary’s duties are complex and often misunderstood by the general public, providing her boss with a copy of the Code was a good way to help educate him about why she had to refuse the notarization.
Requesting Necessary ID
While it’s important for businesses to treat their clients well, too much eagerness by supervisors to please can put Notaries in a tough situation, like the one Jenn Sundquist Shelton of Sacramento, California, faced at her law firm. One day one of the law firm’s partners asked Jenn to notarize the signature of an important client. However, when Jenn asked the client for identification, the partner tried to intervene.
“He looked at me and giggled nervously and told me I was ridiculous asking for ID,” Jenn said. “After all, the client was well-known to the firm’s lawyers so there should be no need for that, right?”
Wrong. Jenn knew that California state law does not permit Notaries to identify signers through personal knowledge. “Obviously, we knew who he was — but I still needed proof,” she said. She politely explained to the client and the attorney that an acceptable form of ID would be required, and the client was agreeable. However, after the notarization, Jenn was called in by the lawyer and criticized for “embarrassing” him in front of the client. Jenn stuck to her guns.
“I pulled out my California Notary Law Primer and once again explained the law,” she said. The lawyer wasn’t convinced at first, but after he spoke with another Notary who confirmed what Jenn said, he dropped the issue.
Jenn took all the right steps in the face of pressure. She didn’t back down until the attorney was convinced she was doing the right thing by following the law.
No Amount of Money’s Worth Your Integrity
Agreeing to do something illegal can be the worst mistake a Notary can make — but sometimes dishonest people put a lot of temptation in the Notary’s path. Lynne Shertzer of Newport Beach, California, works for a law firm and was asked to notarize some estate documents for a former client. The notarization was to take place at a hospital, but when Lynne arrived she found out the client was in a coma in the intensive care unit.
The person who contacted Lynne was insistent that the documents be notarized. He told Lynne the client’s daughter, the beneficiary of the documents, would move the unconscious client’s hand to sign the documents. Lynne refused this clearly illegal procedure, but then the man upped the ante — he offered Lynne $10,000 to go ahead with the illegal notarization. “No one has to know,” he said.
Lynne knew, though — and what’s more, she knew the request was illegal and the consequences to both the victim and herself if she took the money and went through with it. “I told him I thought I could buy a lot of cigarettes in prison for $10,000, but no thanks!” she said.
Lynne showed the highest standards of integrity in this situation. She made the right choice.