(Originally published in the May 2013 issue of The National Notary magazine)
Even before you start a notarization, it can be challenging to determine what type of act is required. Many signers are unaware of the difference between an acknowledgment and a jurat. At the same time, state law prohibits Notaries from choosing the notarial act on a signer's behalf, which is considered the unauthorized practice of law. But by following the steps below, you can discover what notarial act is needed without violating the law.
Step 1: Check for pre-printed wording.
Many documents come with pre-printed certificate wording that clearly indicates what type of act is needed. For example, if your state requires specific wording for a jurat and that wording is pre-printed on the document, you may proceed with a jurat. However, if for any reason the certificate wording is unclear to you or the document lacks pre-printed notarial language, do not proceed until you can confirm what act is needed from another source.
Step 2: Ask the signer.
If the document lacks appropriate and clear certificate wording, ask the signer what type of notarization is needed. If the signer directs you to perform a particular act, that’s all you need. If the signer isn’t sure, you cannot choose the notarial act for them, but you are permitted to describe the different notarial acts and let the signer pick one. For example, you can say, "If you need your signature acknowledged, you will need to be identified and confirm you are willingly signing this document and aware of what you have signed. If you need a jurat, you will need to sign in my presence and take an oath or affirmation swearing the contents of the document are true. Which would you like?" You can also show the signer samples of an acknowledgment and jurat certificate. Once the signer chooses what type of notarization they want, you may proceed.
Step 3: Have the signer contact the issuing or receiving agency for instructions.
If you cannot determine what act to perform from steps 1 and 2, the signer should contact either the agency that issued the document or the receiving agency and ask what type of notarization is needed. Again, you may describe the different notarial acts to the agency and let them choose which one is appropriate. However, be careful. Some agencies unfamiliar with notarial laws and procedures may direct you to just "stamp and sign" the document or ask you to perform an act not permitted in your state. If you are asked to perform an act you know is prohibited by statute, explain that state regulations don't permit you to do so and ask the agency to choose an alternate lawful notarial act. Once you learn what act is needed, you can proceed. If none of the above steps are successful, and it’s still not clear what notarial act is needed, the notarization needs to be called off. The signer may need to contact an attorney for guidance on how to complete the document before rescheduling the notarization.