One of your key duties as a notary, while completing a notarial act, involves making a critical assessment whether it is reasonable to believe that the signer is signing the document out of free will. The client should understand the contents of the ...
One of your key duties as a notary, while completing a notarial act, involves making a critical assessment whether it is reasonable to believe that the signer is signing the document out of free will. The client should understand the contents of the document, its repercussions, and be signing it of their free will (with no coercion).
Many notaries say they get a gut feeling when something is off in their signing. Usually people can tell when something is not right, and if you are not comfortable in a signing, you may always decline to proceed with notarization.
Some clues that coercion has or is taking place are:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Someone else answering all of your questions
- A plethora of questions from the signer
The individual should be signing the document by choice, but they should also be aware of the contents of the document. If they do not know what it is about, or seem confused, you should advise them to contact a lawyer, the agency who issued the paperwork, or whomever will be receiving the paperwork. As a notary, you cannot provide them with advice.
In every notarization, you should assess whether it is reasonable to believe the signer is of sound mind and cognizant of what they are signing. This is especially important when notarizing a document for an elderly individual. Usually, a family member will be present. Be sure they are not answering the questions for the signer. Is the signer making eye contact with you? Are they acknowledging the questions and answering? If you are concerned they are not, you can ask the family members to leave to allow the signer to speak freely.
Ask the signer directly if they are aware of what the document contains and if they are signing it willingly.
If the signing is occurring at a nursing home or a facility, we recommend pulling in one of the staff to serve as a witness. If there is a dispute later on, the separate witness will serve you well.
If you believe the signer is unwilling to sign or that coercion has taken place, then you should refuse the notarization. Do not make accusations at others involved or challenge the signer's honesty—confrontation can usually lead to sticky situations. However, do be honest and tell them you are not comfortable completing the notarial act.