By Kelle Clarke
On Dec. 19 we posed a scenario, The Case of the Missing Figures, about a Notary who was asked by a signer to notarize a promissory note that was missing critical information, including the final loan amount. The Notary refused to notarize the incomplete document, but the signer kept insisting. The question is: Was the Notary correct in refusing the notarization, and what explanation should be given to the signer?
Notaries nationwide weighed in on the NNA Facebook page, including several California Notaries — Lynell Holden, Marian Harmon, Verne Gordon, and Janice Leigh, to name a few— who cited state laws forbidding Notaries from notarizing incomplete documents. Virginia Notary Susan Kehoe-Sutphin, Arizona Notary Melodye Davis, and Clara Williams all agree: Incomplete documents = no notarization. Period.
Florida Notary Linda Hubbell further noted that it’s the Notary’s responsibility to scan documents to ensure there are no blank spaces, and Sylvia Henderson Crouse said she’d have the signer call the lender and inform him that the transaction could not be completed until all blanks were filled in completely. Dolly Thornton cited the possibility for fraud as her biggest reason for not notarizing the document, as someone could easily fill in the wrong amount at a later date.
Here’s what the NNA Hotline had to say:
Promissory notes do not typically require notarization, but, if they do, the same rules apply as with any other document: the document must be filled out completely in order for the Notary to perform the notarization. Notarizing an incomplete document exposes the signer to fraud, so no official instrument, including a promissory note as used in this example, should ever be notarized unless it is entirely completed and there are no blank spaces.
While the lender and borrower may have agreed upon an amount, there is no way to know what amount will be used in the final note. The lender could, in fact, write in a much higher amount at a later time (or a borrower a lesser amount), resulting in a legal conflict. In such a case, it is not unusual for the Notary to be brought in to testify in the legal proceedings.
To avoid potential liability, a diligent Notary must always ask the signer to fill in any blank spaces, or ask the signer to take the document to the appropriate issuing agency and have them complete it. If the blank spaces are inapplicable, then the Notary can ask the signer to line through the space or write “NA” in the blank areas.
Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.