While there’s a low barrier of entry to be a notary public, the standards to which you hold yourself will define your success as well as help you prevent legal troubles down the road. Here are five practices we recommend you follow to cement your status as a reputable Notary Public:
1. Become an expert on your state laws and procedures.
Know your state notary laws. Keep your state notary handbook with you for reference at all times. Learn about credible witness procedure and signing by X procedure in your state. Be familiar and comfortable with all notary and signing-related terminology and policies. This isn’t an area where you should have any questions, but if you do, perform your research, call your state notary division, or get advice from a local notary group. Here’s the link to the Florida Handbook: https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/Notary_Reference_Manual_12.13.16.pdf for your reference.
2. Keep meticulous records
Even though many states don’t require journals, professional notaries understand the importance of keeping meticulous records and a journal. Nobody cares about the records until there’s a legal dispute, and then you’ll be glad you decided to listen to us. Keep thumbprints, write down additional notes, including anything unusual about the signer, and be thorough. In an ideal world, you’ll never need to go back to them, but in the one in a thousand chance you do, meticulous records will protect you! If you’re looking for a notary journal designed for handling multiple documents during one appointment, we recommend this one.
3. Be cautious with blanks and cross-outs.
Blanks are spaces that could conceivably be filled in after you notarize a document, and cross-outs could have happened at any time. The best solution with both is to refuse to notarize any document with blanks or cross-outs. It’s illegal to notarize the former and questionable to notarize the latter, so a best practice would be to only notarize clean typed documents with no cross-outs and no blanks. And while you can notarize a hand-written document, it does introduce an element of risk as well.
4. Place your seal carefully.
It’s very important that you place your seal in a spot where there is no wording and that you don’t sign or write over the stamp impression. (Side note, writing over the stamp voids the notarization so if you’re ever asked to notarize a blank piece of paper in a setting where that’s unavoidable, like a jail where they’ll need you to test your stamp before you can bring it inside, sign your name over it and write void so you’re still in the clear.) If you don’t have the space to place your seal, attach a loose notary certificate. (Another side note: always attach the loose certificate directly to the document, and carefully detail all information on the loose certificate, from the name of the document, date, number of pages, and description. Never hand a loose certificate to the client directly without it being attached.
5. Listen to your gut
You can say no to anyone. Does the identification feel or look fake? Are you unsure if the person is the same person in the photo? Is the signer asking you to break the rules? Do they or the situation seem suspicious in any way? Is the signer within his or her mental faculties? Can you communicate clearly and properly with them? If there is doubt in any way, listen to your instincts and feel secure saying no.
Do you have to follow these practices? Of course not. But will they help protect you in case of issues that might crop up in the future? Absolutely. Only you can decide if protecting yourself from risk is worth a little time, consideration, and professionalism in the beginning, but we can tell you the answer to that. It is.