The responsibility of a notary is to serve as an impartial witness to the signing of key documents. They identify and inspect documents and ensure that all of the signers involved understand what they are signing. It’s their job to confirm the identity of the people involved and that state rules are being followed.
But what classifies as a “key document?” What sort of documents do notaries deal with?
Discover what types of documents need to be notarized, as well as which documents a notary can’t sign.
Why Use a Notary?
A notary is a form of protection for the signers of important documents. They lower the risks of doing business by helping prevent fraud. An official signature, seal, and embossing stamp signifies that the persons involved were the ones who understood the document and signed it.
While a notarized document does not mean that the provisions in a document are legal, it does reinforce the veracity of documents in court.
What Types of Documents Can Be Notarized?
Most documents that are notarized can be broken down into three major types: financial, legal, and business.
Banks, investment firms, title companies, and other financial institutions require notarization for a wide variety of documents and processes. Financial documents that require notarization can include:
- Mortgage closing documents
- Loan documents
- Property deeds
- Some types of credit documents
- Financial statements
Documents that deal with legal ownership and responsibility are some of the most frequent documents that need to be notarized. These can include:
- Advanced directives
- Custody and guardianship agreements
- Power of attorney
- Court documents
Businesses also need notary services. While not every important document that a business uses needs to be, most can be notarized. These documents can include:
- Articles of incorporation
- Memorandum of understanding documents
- Vendor contracts
- Commercial leases
- Employment contracts
- Construction and loan agreements
What Can a Notary Not Notarize?
Notaries have strict rules and guidelines they must follow when notarizing a document. If a document does not fit those standards, it cannot be notarized. These prohibitions are there to protect the public, as well as ensure the credibility of the notary.
Here are just a few reasons a document cannot be notarized:
- The document is dated later than the day of notarization, or the certificate that is issued is backdated. This counts as forgery and carries with it additional fines and the potential loss of the notary’s commission.
- The signer cannot be positively identified.
- A signer is not physically present.
- The document is missing pages or has blank sections; those must be complete by the time of notarization.
- The document is blank.
- A signer appears confused or mentally incapable of understanding the transaction.
- If the notary thinks or knows the transaction is illegal, the notary may not proceed with notarization.
- The signer does not speak the same language as the notary.
- The signer is unwilling to swear or affirm the contents of the document (for notarizations that require an oath or affirmation).
- The signer shows indications of being coerced to sign.
- The document does not contain a notarial certificate and there are no instructions on which type of notarial certificate is required.
- The document is a copy of a vital record. This can include documents like a birth certificate. Notary publics are not permitted to notarize these documents.
Notaries will never authenticate or validate objects. They are not allowed to notarize their own signatures or serve as a notary if they are a party to the situation.
Notaries can also refuse service if a signer is unable or unwilling to pay any required fees, if the request is made outside of your regular office hours, or violates your established workplace guidelines.
When A Notary Shouldn’t Say No
As long as a notarial act is lawful and has met accepted standards, the notary should perform a notarization. There are times when it is inappropriate for a notary to refuse a notarization.
Personal Bias or Beliefs
As a public official, a notary should never refuse due to a signer’s nationality, religion, race, age, lifestyle, gender, or disabilities. There are times when a notary might be responsible for notarizing a controversial document related to such topics as same-sex unions, assisted suicide, the use of medical marijuana, or abortion. Even if a document’s contents violate your personal beliefs, this is not enough to refuse a notarization.
Notarizing a document does not mean you personally agree with or condone the contents of the document. A notary is only an impartial, third-party witness that verifies the identity of the signer(s).
Oaths and Commissions
Notaries are also responsible for administering oaths. Much like the notarization of documents, notaries may not withhold this service based on their personal beliefs, political affiliation, or bias. Their role is to administer the oath, not judge or make assumptions about those who are taking the oath.
What Should a Notary Do When They Refuse a Notarization?
Refusing a notarization can lead to a signer feeling upset or inconvenienced. In the worst-case scenario, they may feel there is a legal case for unlawful discrimination. In all cases, you should remain calm and follow these best practices.
Speak to clients in a calm, professional manner. Always remain respectful. Avoid any debate with the signer regarding the refusal. If you have grounds to refuse a notarization, debate, argument, or bribes should not change that.
Provide a clear explanation of why you are refusing a notarization. Show how it violates the law and how if you allowed the notarization to happen, it may get the signer in trouble and cost you your notary commission in addition to hefty penalty fees.
Keep a Record
If you keep a notarial record, document the refusal in your notarial journal. This should include the exact reason for the refusal and any additional details needed in case the refusal gets questioned down the line.
Can a Notary Give Legal Advice?
No, a notary cannot give any advice or opinions that should be given by an attorney. Notary publics have a very limited, specific role: to authorize oaths, to verify identity, and to confirm the signatures on a document. It is illegal for a notary public to act as legal counsel or provide a second opinion.
If a notary is under the impression that a signer is not of sound mind or thinks that the transaction is illegal, they can always choose not to notarize.
Become a Notary with Florida Notary Association
At Florida Notary Association, we make sure you have the resources and tools you need to do your job as a public notary. We even help you submit your notary application or renew your commission if you already are one.
If you’re interested in becoming a notary in the state of Florida, we are here to help you through the steps of notary certification. Contact us today to find out how we can answer any questions you might have.