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National Notary Blog

Keeping up Pt IV. - Conducting Your Notary Business Ethically

Whether you are an experienced Notary, a first time commission holder, or simply serve as the Notary for your workplace, you can expect your signers and coworkers to see you as the go-to expert on notarization. Therefore you have an obligation to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the office you hold. Upholding your state’s notary laws and conforming to professional notary standards will help you remain an ethical and responsible notary throughout your career.

 

Act With Total Impartiality

Notary laws provide certain prohibitions against conflicts of interest. The aim of these laws is to protect the public by ensuring the Notary remains an unbiased, disinterested party who stands between the signer and anyone who would defraud that signer. Best practices for remaining neutral and avoiding conflicts of interest include the following:

  • Never notarize for a family member- While some states specify that you may not notarize for a relative, or any person related by blood or marriage, select others are silent on this issue. Generally, a notary should refrain from notarizing for family members, to avoid any questions about impartiality.
  • Don’t notarize if you’re a party to the transaction- If you are connected to the transaction, or if you stand to gain from the transaction, you cannot be neutral.
  • Don’t notarize if you have a financial interest-Financial interest” is present when the notary will receive any financial benefit that is contingent upon completion of the transaction. This benefit does not include the fee for notarial service or your salary as an employee. 

 

Ethical Conduct

Most business professionals and public officers have codes of conduct that they must adhere to. This is no different for notaries. Here are three fundamental principles of ethical Notary Conduct:

1. Observe Client Confidentiality.

By observing client confidentiality, a Notary will never divulge the contents of any document nor the facts of any transaction. They will not use the information for their own benefit or as a source of gossip.

2. Avoid discrimination among customers.

Ethical notaries treat each individual fairly and equally, with kindness and respect. The United States Constitution strictly prohibits discrimination of any kind. It goes without saying that you may not discriminate in performing notarizations for your customers

3. Advertise your notary services properly.

Advertising is an active way to increase your business. Be aware, however, that many states have specific restrictions on advertising Notary services. You must never translate the words, “Notary Public,” from English into any other language. The term, “Notario Publico,” may be very misleading to persons from foreign countries where “notarios” have considerably more powers that U.S. Notaries Public. Additionally, if you are not an attorney and you advertise in another language, you should specify that you are not an attorney, cannot give legal advice nor can you charge fees for legal services. Producing misleading advertisements or violating these restrictions could lead to sanctions such as the loss of your notary commission.

Keeping Up With Your Notary Commission Part III

notary commission

Recordkeeping

The notary record book (also referred to as a notary journal, log, or register) is an essential tool because it enables Notaries to easily document every notarial act they perform. This documentation reflects the facts if you are diligent of every notarial act you perform. Although recordkeeping requirements vary across states, there is universal agreement among Notary experts that recordkeeping is an essential practice. The regular use of a record book can help minimize a Notary’s exposure to liability by reducing omission of vital steps of notarization and creates credible evidence of every notarial transaction the notary performed.

In this context, regularly maintaining a record book is in the best interest of you, the public, and your employer.

 

Record Book Entry

The single most important piece of information you will record in the record book is the signer’s original signature in ink because this establishes that the signer personally appeared for the notarization. By recording details about the signer’s form of identification, such as type of ID and distinguishing digits, you are also demonstrating that you satisfactorily identified the signer. Recorded information about the notarial act includes date and time of the notarization, document type, and type of notarial act performed. Fees you charge for your services should also be recorded because any fees collected must be reported as taxable income. The record book is an accurate and reliable means of documenting this fee collection.

Advantages of Keeping Records

The design of a record book entry can help remind you of all your responsibilities when performing a notarial act. This tool not only can provide the notary with a ready-made checklist of information to verify prior to the notarization, but it also provides a reference if the notarization is questioned at a later date. An accurate entry may demonstrate your compliance with the law by recording facts such as the time and date, how you identified the signer, what type of notarial act you performed, and other supporting facts. It is these facts, among others, that may convincingly establish that:

  • the person for whom you notarized personally appeared before you
  • you took every reasonable step to satisfactorily identify the signer as provided by your state’s notary law
  • the signature you notarized was made by the person who claims to own it

Keeping Up With Your Notary Commission Part II

Notary stamp, embossing seal, and record book requirements vary across states. It is critical for every Notary Public to know his or her state’s specific seal requirements, and adhere to them. The responsible management of your notary seal and record book is an important aspect of “Keeping Up With Your Commission.”

 

Protect yourself by protecting your notary seal.

The notary seal is your symbol of authority and conveys essential information about your commission. The majority of states require your seal to be imprinted with a mechanical device like an ink stamp or a metal embosser. In states that do not require the use of a seal, notaries still elect to use one anyway for ease and convenience.

Stamp, Embosser Storage

Your stamp or embosser must remain under your sole control at all times. Regardless if it’s your supervisor or a close relative, never let anyone else use these tools. Always securely store your stamp or embosser when not in use.

Seal Loss/Theft

If your notary seal device is lost or stolen, report it to your commissioning authority immediately, and in writing. Check with your commissioning authority for specific reporting procedures. In the case of theft, it will also benefit you to file a police report. Reporting your seal device as stolen may provide you a measure of defense should someone use it to perform a fraudulent notarization. After you have notified your state’s commissioning authority, it will be time for you to order another seal from your bonding agency or notary supply provider.

Seal Disposal

When a Notary Public reaches the end of his or her commission term due to expiration or non-renewal, certain measures should be taken to prevent the fraudulent or incorrect use of expired notary supplies. Ink stamps and embossers should never be used after the commission expiration date, and should be destroyed unless your state requires other action (always contact your state’s commissioning authority to determine the most appropriate course of action).

Stay tuned, we will be “Keeping Up” with your notary record book next time!

Common Misconceptions of Notarial Acts

Notarial terminology and phrases can get confusing especially for a first-time notary. To make it easier for notaries joining the business and a refresher for the veteran notaries, we have created a list of terms and their definitions.

common-misconceptions-FL

Notarize a signature: common phrase in the notary business although it often gets misconstrued. Notaries do not witness signatures, but administer an oath, affirmation, or take an acknowledgement.

Notarize a document: another common phrase that is often interpreted wrong. The act of notarizing is actually for the person not the document.

**Although both of these phrases are not technically correct it is okay to use them as long as you and your client know what they mean.

 

Notarial Certificate: The paragraph following the person’s signature. It includes the notaries name, the venue, and a sworn statement. It is not the act but a record of the act.

Oath: a pledge made by a person signifying he or she is responsible for telling the truth. It can be oral or written.

Affirmation: in lace of an oath because of a religious objection or not religious at all. Just like an oath, it can be oral or written and has the same legal impact as an oath. **If an oath or affirmation is false it is an act of perjury which is punishable by the law.

Acknowledgment: declaration that the person has signed the document voluntarily. Of course, everyone gets confused from time to time, so if you feel you need a refresher or are still confused, contact our Customer Care line.

Keeping Up With Your Notary Commission Part 1

The performance of notarial acts is just one aspect of a Notary Public’s commission.

Notaries have a legal and professional responsibility to “keep up” with their commission status and notary tools. Changes in personal information, criminal history, or eligibility to hold office are all details that must be reported. Similarly, official tools of office such as a Notary’s stamp, embosser or recordbook must be safeguarded and loss of these items must also be reported. Some states even require that a deceased Notary’s survivors or designated agent perform ministerial tasks such as destroying the Notary’s official seal or filing the Notary’s records with the commissioning official.

In this multi-part series, we will be “keeping up” with your role as a Notary Public by discussing the various obligations that your commission consists of, starting with:

Reporting Personal Information Changes

Changes in personal information must be reported to your state’s Notary Public Administrator or official who manages Notary records. Also, do not forget to notify your bonding agency as well. Many states have notary laws and administrative rules in place that specify whether or not a Notary must report changes in personal information.

Notaries can learn about their state’s specific laws and rules by contacting their commissioning official. Most all maintain an information-rich web site with helpful resources for notaries. Changes are generally reported through form submissions. Many states post their forms online or have a completely online reporting process. Did we mention, do not forget to notify your bonding agency?

What Types of Status Changes Must Typically Be Reported?

Any change to your contact information such as your mailing address, your business address, or your telephone number should be immediately reported to your state’s official who maintains notary records. If you were to move out of state and no longer meet the eligibility requirements for being a notary, then you must notify your commissioning official and resign your commission.

In terms of your legal name change, state requirements vary, and some states even have a timeframe within which you must take action. Again, check your state laws and rules for specific instructions.

Stay tuned for more on “Keeping Up” with your notary commission!

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