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A Notary’s Use of a Credible Witness or Witnesses

Certain core notarial permissions are uniform across all states, for example the authority of a notary to perform acknowledgement and jurat (verification) notarial acts. 

Dig a little bit into state notary laws, however, and differences are immediately apparent. States differ on the full range of notarial acts that notaries are authorized to perform; on specific notarial certificate language; on whether notaries must obtain training or maintain a record book (journal) of their notarial acts; even on whether a notary must use an official seal of office to complete notarial certificates.

State notary statutes also differ on “satisfactory evidence”—the methods a notary may rely upon to satisfactorily identify the principal signer appearing before the notary. Many states specifically authorize use of a “credible witness”—an individual or individuals who is/are disinterested in the transaction*, and whose own knowledge of a principal signer’s identity can be accepted when the principal signer lacks an acceptable identification document and is not personally known by the notary.
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*Some states authorizing use of a credible witness specify that the person must be disinterested in, or impartial, regarding the transaction.  Among the states discussed below, Florida and Missouri specify that a credible witness must be disinterested in the transaction. Texas does not specify this, but standard notarial best practice is that a credible witness should be disinterested in the transaction, even when state law is silent on that point.

Notaries must be knowledgeable of their particular state standards for use of a credible witness, as standards differ among authorizing states. A widespread assumption—by notaries and the parties to a transaction—is that the use of a credible witness is no more exacting than a person merely vouching, verbally, that the principal signer is who he or she/they say they are. A quick peek at a few states’ requirements for use of a credible witness (when notarizing for a physically present principal signer) reveals much more nuance and detail.

Florida – allows the notary to rely on one credible witness who is personally known by the notary and who personally knows the principal signer; or two credible witnesses who personally know the principal signer, are not personally known by the notary, but who the notary can identify by use of identification documents specified in statutes. Both a single credible witness and two credible witnesses must execute a sworn written statement described in statute, requiring the notary to perform an oath/affirmation (jurat, verification) notarial act for the credible witness(es).

Missouri – Like Florida, allows the notary to rely on one credible witness who is personally known by the notary and who personally knows the principal signer; or two credible witnesses who personally know the principal signer, are not personally known by the notary, but who the notary can identify by use of identification documents specified in statutes. Unlike Florida, a Missouri credible witness is required to provide a verbal oath or affirmation only—not a sworn written statement—about the identity of the principal signer. 

Texas – differs from both Florida and Missouri, by allowing use of only one credible witness who may be personally known to the notary, or who the notary can identify by use of an identification credential specified in statutes. Texas law further specifies that the credible witness must “introduce” the principal signer to the notary, and take an oath or affirmation about the person’s identity. Since neither a sworn written statement nor “verification” is specified, the credible witness’ oath or affirmation can be verbal-only.

If you are commissioned in a state that allows the use of a credible witness or witnesses to identify a principal signer, make a habit of verifying the requirements on a regular basis. Carefully note (a) whether you are limited to using only one credible witness or if you may rely on two; (b) how you may establish your knowledge of any credible witness’ identity; and (c) whether your law specifies that a credible witness must execute a sworn written affidavit, or that a verbal oath or affirmation is to be performed.

Most important: never assume that authorized notarial acts and procedures are uniform from state-to-state. Always assume (until you verify otherwise) that your state law has unique requirements, research them, and follow them to the letter.