7 Local Notary Public Mistakes You Can't Afford To Ignore

Everyone makes mistakes, but when you’re a notary public or you’re working with a local notary public, you really can’t afford to make them.

Doing so can lead to delayed business dealings, losing clients, and even being fined or jailed.

Here are seven local public notary mistakes you can’t ignore:

1. Not Requiring The Signer To Be Physically Present  

It is extremely rare that it would not be required for a signer to appear in front of the notary public when documentation is being notarized. Generally, the only time that a signer would not have to appear before a notary is if an attorney is the principal signer or if you.

Excuses such as being too ill to appear or having a family emergency may get you out of showing up to the office, but they won’t fly as excuses as to why a notary and a signer would be in the same room.

In some states, you can potentially provide proofs of execution, which can involve designating one or two witnesses to appear on your behalf. This depends on the circumstances and which state you live in, so be careful to check the laws.

Whenever possible, it's always preferable to have the signer, the local public notary, and witnesses present to make sure that the documentation is being notarized correctly. The more, the merrier!

2. The Local Public Notary Forgetting To Sign Their Own Name

This would seem like a mistake someone would make in grade school on a big test, but it happens to adults running for public office and it’s a huge deal.

Rep Reggie Fullwood was prevented from appearing on the ballot because the notary failed to sign their own name on the qualifying paperwork.

As a result of this local notary public error, there was a special election that needed to be held and it cost taxpayers an estimated $320,000!

How could this have been prevented?

The local public notary at the governor’s office should have been following basic protocol by keeping a record of what type of identification the notary used to identify the signer and a journal that keeps track of past complaints.

A simple mistake can be costly and waste everyone’s time, and tie everyone up in otherwise preventable legal battles.

3. Making Sloppy Alterations To Documents After They've Been Printed

Crossing out mistakes, writing initials over, and using correction fluid may fly for some formal documents, but when you’re getting something notarized, this is not ok. Even if the mistakes are honest mistakes and the information is conveyed accurately, albeit sloppily, it’s cause for suspicion.

If a document looks like it’s been tampered with, it’s less likely to get approved and there may even be fraud allegations as a result. Start fresh and pay attention to detail.

Documents that are being notarized should be as clean and fresh as possible, even if the parties involved are rooting for expediency. If these documents don't get approved, it's going to take even more of everyone's time.

Make sure everything is correct before laying that stamp down. It's your job as a local public notary.

4. Failing To Obtain A Thumbprint

As a local notary public, you are required to take a journal thumbprint for documents that you notarize. This especially applies to deeds that affect real property and power of attorney documents as well.

A thumbprint is what protects everyone involved from allegations of fraud

If you don't get a thumbprint, you're risking your entire career as a local public notary, whether or not you're doing it intentionally or not. If you're a signer, you should be able to rely on the individual notarizing your documents to make sure this happens.

The consequences vary by state, but if you’re in California, for example, the penalty is pretty serious — a $2,500 fine. That’s a very pricey mistake to make.

Note:  Current law requires a journal thumbprint for all documents affecting real property — not just deeds, quitclaim deeds and deeds of trust — as well as all power of attorney documents (Government Code, Section 8206). The only exceptions are a trustee's deed resulting from a decree of foreclosure; a nonjudicial foreclosure pursuant to Civil Code Section 2924 or a deed of reconveyance. 

On all other documents, obtaining the signer’s thumbprint in the journal is not required; however, it is a practice that is recommended by the National Notary Association. Increasingly, Notaries are asking document signers to leave a thumbprint for all notarial transactions. It is a strong deterrent to forgery, as it represents absolute proof of the signer's identity and proves the signer was present before the Notary. Nothing prevents a Notary from asking for a thumbprint for every notarial act, if the signer is willing. However, a Notary may not refuse to notarize a document if the signer has complied with all other laws governing notarization and the document type is not one that requires a journal thumbprint.

5. Having An Illegible Notary Seal

Using a stamp that does not convey the detail of the notary seal will flag the document as potentially being fraudulent, not to mention it makes you look unprofessional. If the stamp is not transferring key elements like the notary's name, commission number and the expiration date, it is not a valid stamp.

Avoid this simple mistake by having backup stamps and ink and by rocking the stamp back and forth and being intentional when you’re applying it to documentation.

Fun fact — if you’re in Connecticut, you actually don’t need to use a stamp as a local public notary, so you’re exempt from this.

Here’s another common stamp error - having the wrong date and then crossing it out and writing in the correct one. That’s a major faux pas.

If the stamp doesn’t have all the correct information, don’t use it. You can’t correct the stamp later.

6. Rushing Through The Jurat Or Acknowledgement

First of all, make sure that, if your state has additional verbiage, such as California on your jurat or acknowledgement contains the correct statement in a box stating: “A notary public or other officer completing this certificate verifies only the identity of the individual who signed the document to which this certificate is attached, and not the truthfulness, accuracy, or validity of that document.”

Don’t leave any fields blank. Draw lines through any open spaces. Blank fields should be viewed by the notary as an invitation for someone to insert an additional or different name into the acknowledgement or jurat. Leaving any of the fields blank on the notary certificate such as the client’s name or the notarial service date deems the document unfit.

The printed names and signatures should match in all respects. For example, if the document uses full names including middle names, the signatures should match. The exception will be for someone whose consistent signature is a scribbled representation.

Don’t forget to administer the Oath or Affirmation on all jurats. This is a whole other topic, so more on Oaths or Affirmations later.

7. Notarizing Inaccurate Information On Preprinted Documents

This happens more often than you think because there are forms that are delivered with this information already printed on them so not all notaries think to check depending on the source.

As a local notary public, it is your job to go line-by-line and make sure that every portion of the document is correct. The location and date, as simple as they may seem to get right, are not always right on pre-printed documents and if they are not correct, they will be deemed void.

It is your job as a local notary public to ensure that you're doing your job correctly. If you're a signer, make sure that you're getting your documents notarized in the right way the first time!

The mistakes simply aren't worth it.