The primary responsibility of a notary is to verify a document signer's identity prior to notarizing the signature. A notary public may not notarize a signature unless the notary personally knows, or has satisfactory evidence, that the person whose signature is being notarized is the person described in the document and is the person who is executing the document. There are three ways to verify a signer's identity:
- Personal knowledge – This is the safest and best method to verify a person's identity. It does not require any witnesses or identification cards. The notary simply has personal knowledge from association with the person, which would establish the person's identity.
- Credible witness – A credible witness is a third person who has personal knowledge of the document signer's identity. The credible witness must verify on oath or affirmation the document signer's identity. The notary must be able to identify the credible witness by personal knowledge or on the basis of an identification card or papers.
- Identification card or papers – This method of verifying a person's identity involves examining the photograph, accurate physical description and signature. Requesting two forms of identification can further confirm a person's identity. Acceptable forms of identification include a passport, driver's license or government-issued identification card which contains the person's signature or a photograph of the person and is satisfactory to the notary.
A notary may require additional information or identification of a person to assure identity prior to notarizing a document. If a notary is uncomfortable or suspicious of any identification, the notary should not notarize for that person.
Required Information When Notarizing Documents
For a complete notarial act, the document should not have any blanks and the certificate of notarial act contains the following information:
- Jurisdiction (state and county) where notarial act was executed;
- Statement for certificate of the notarial act;
- Person's signature and date;
- Notary's signature and date; and
- Clear impression of the notary stamp, which includes the commission expiration date.
Before the departure of the person or persons for whom the notarial act was executed, a notary is strongly encouraged to review the document and certificate again to make sure the notarial act meets all of the requirements of state law.
When Not to Notarize
A notary is prohibited from notarizing a document if:
- The document was not personally signed or resigned in presence of the notary public for a verification on oath or affirmation.
- The document was not personally acknowledged in the presence of the notary to allow for the completion of an acknowledgment.
- The notary's name or the notary's spouse's name appears on the document as a party.
- The notary or the notary's spouse has a direct beneficial interest.
- The notary is notarizing his or her own signature or the signature of the notary's spouse.
- The notary uses a name or initial other than what appears on the notary's commission.
- The date of the verification on oath or affirmation or acknowledgment is not the actual date the document is to be notarized or the verification on oath or affirmation or acknowledgment is undated.
- Any signature on the document is not an original signature.
Refusal to Perform Notarial Acts
In certain situations, a notary may not consider it ethical to notarize a document for someone even though the notary is not prohibited from notarizing the document or a notary may simply not want to notarize a document. A notary may refuse to perform a notarial act if:
- The notary believes that the person whose signature is being notarized is not competent or lacks the capacity to execute the instrument;
- If the notary does not believe that the person whose signature is being notarized is executing the instrument knowingly or voluntarily; or
- For any other reason unless prohibited by law.