Know Notarization and Know your Notary
Perhaps the second oldest profession, the function of the Notary Public is one of the most ancient of public offices. It developed from a need to conduct commerce without face to face contact, and to assure the validity and transferability of contracts. Central to answering these needs was the Notary Public, a local who knew everyone and everyone knew the Notary. Long before photo ID the verification of signatures was only done on a personal knowledge basis. This carries over to modern times, as notarizations still have a “basis of notarization” selection for the notary personally known or produced ID. If an individual signature could be in doubt, how then could the assurance of the notary be beyond reproach? Governing bodies developed the concept of a hard to duplicate notary seal, originally impressed into wax, it evolved into today’s embossing.
In addition to the concept of signature authenticity, the concept of truthfulness was quickly appended. Words written, and signed before the notary, were sworn statements, compelling honesty; under penalty of law. Thus a contract could be both accepted as authentic and be enforceable. Early notaries were the equivalent of modern day Town Clerks. They recorded contract, births, deaths, marriages and conveyances. This is still true in some Latin American countries where the title of “Notario Publico” represents a major public official.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is sometimes permissible for a document to be notarized to be signed prior to meeting with the notary. It depends on the wording in the notary section. If the phrase “this instrument was acknowledged before me” appears in the notary section the responsibility of the notary is to establish ID and, with face to face contact; ask the person if they did indeed sign the document then it can properly be notarized. If the phrase reads “sworn to and subscribed before me” then the operative word is subscribed; and the notary is required to actually witness the signature. In every case the notary is required to have face to face contact and check the affiant’s ID. It is always illegal to do a notarization “over the phone”, or via FAX.
The start of the notary section contains a Venue; typically (in my case) “State of New York, County of New York” that is where the notarization has taken place. Both serve the same purpose. The “SS” does not require someone to enter their Social Security number at that location! Often the preprinted notarization has an incorrect venue (typically where the property is located) as in a mortgage. It is the notary’s responsibility to correct the Venue to the actual State and County where the document is to be signed.
A worst case practice by a dismal few notaries is the practice of merely stamping and signing a document (that does not have proper notarization wording) and calling it notarized. This occurs all too frequently. The proper procedure is to use an Acknowledgement stamp (directly on the document) or adding a separate page called a “loose Acknowledgement”. Embossing by the notary is always a good idea.
Be sure the Notary you select has proper equipment ask if they have: An Acknowledgement stamp to add proper notary wording to an existing document; Multiple size Notary stamps for “tight spots” and larger size for readability; Multiple embossers one for “bottom” use / the other for “side” use; A good supply of Notary forms, Acknowledgement, Jurat, Affidavit of Photocopy, etc.; A copy of the Notary Law, and Phone Numbers / Addresses of Local County Clerk offices; A cell phone that is always answered by the same notary in case of a question; National Notary Association Receipts often honored for rebate of Notary Fees; “Gold” foil for embossing seals on documents to foreign countries; Pens, stapler, adhesive tape, etc a mobile office of supplies to solve problems. All of these items are not needed for every notarization, but the better equipped notary is likely to have more experience in solving real world situations; without compromising.
You also have to do your part. It is your responsibility to provide proper ID. The standard is “government issued photo ID”. I have had people present to me, and I rejected: a social security card (no photo); a Gold’s Gym membership with photo (not government issued), a birth certificate (no photo), etc. Married women often have their Drivers License in their maiden name bring your marriage license showing change of name and there will be no problem. It is the duty of the notary to notarize the name exactly as on the ID presented. If your driver’s license has Thomas Smith, don’t sign Tommy Smith, or request the notary to notarize a “stage name”. A good notary will be quite strict about this. The duty of the notary is to protect you from someone using your name on a document. The notarization date must be the date you actually meet with the notary; the document date can be any date in the past. Backdating documents places the notary at grave risk; technically it’s the crime of Forgery.
Notarization is serious business. The oath given to you by the notary has the exact same legal consequences as one given to you in a courtroom by the bailiff of the court (do you swear to tell the truth.). False statements made on a notarized document are a serious crime. Technically it is Perjury, not something to take lightly. The role of the Notary Public has a proud heritage. With the requirement for ever greater security measures in our changing world, more frequent contact with the Notary Public is likely in the years to come.
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