Notary 101: How to do a notarial act, in detail.

How to do a notarial act.

“It’s my first notary appointment, what do I do?” – We’ve all been there, and the good news is that it’s easier than you think! Whether you have a single document with a single signer or a stack of documents with multiple signers, the process is straightforward and simple. It’s all the same procedure, and some transactions may just take a little more time than others. Here’s how it goes – follow along for the details.
San Diego Notary, person signing document at kitchen table
California Palm Trees against a blue sky

Basic Steps to administering a notarial act

  1. Make sure everything is ready for notary.
  2. Collect and check active IDs for each signer.
  3. Write ID, document, and notarial act details in your journal.
  4. Signer requests the notarial act.
  5. Examine docs, administer oaths, and sign documents.
  6. Collect signatures and thumbprints for the notarial journal.
  7. Attach notary certificate to the document.

1. Make sure everything is ready for notary.

Before starting a notary appointment, it is important to ensure that all necessary requirements are met. Missing IDs, documents, or signers can cause a lot of inconvenience for both parties. To avoid this, it is recommended to complete a pre-notary checklist while planning the appointment over the phone or email. Confirm that signers have active government IDs or other satisfactory IDs, the IDs match the names on the document precisely, completed documents (without any blanks) will be present at the appointment, signers are mentally fit to sign, especially the elderly or sick, and signers are ready and willing to sign on their own accord. It is also important to ensure that signers speak the same language as the notary.

SD Signings recommends viewing the documents in advance, which helps to prepare for the appointment. Many times, it’s as simple as asking for the digital file.  A notary can verify the accuracy of the documents and enter them into their journal. This is particularly helpful before larger transactions like loan signings or estate plans.

2. Collect and check active IDs for each signer.

After greeting the signers, it’s time to start the notarization process. Begin by asking all signers to provide their identification and confirming that it’s really them. Make sure that the IDs match the names that will be signed on the documents. It’s important to note that you can only identify a signer to the extent that their ID identifies them. If the document reads “John William Smith” and the ID reads “John Smith,” it may be best to ask if they have a passport or another form of valid identification that provides their full name. This is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, it’s essential for the signer. By fully identifying them, you can indicate on the notarial certificate that you’ve taken an extra step to ensure that their transaction processes correctly the first time. This is particularly important since the person requesting the notary service is paying you money and running this errand to ensure that their transaction goes smoothly.

Secondly, it’s best practice for you as a notary to fully identify the signer. If an important document requires a notarial act, it’s crucial to identify the signer fully as the true individual signing. By doing so, you’re protecting everyone involved in the transaction. For example, if a person brings a document that says “Joe Charlie Smith III” is granting his home to someone but only has an ID that shows “Joe Smith,” some notaries may create an acknowledgment indicating “Joe Smith aka ‘Joe Charlie Smith III’.” While the notary is only identifying with the ID information provided, they may be unwittingly assisting a fraudulent transaction to take place. By fully identifying the signer through their ID or other satisfactory evidence, you can prevent this from happening.

The general rule for identifying signers is to use the identification name, which should match the document name exactly or provide more name than the document.

3. Write ID, document, and notarial act details in journal.

To comply with California law, as a notary public, it is important to record certain information in your notary journal while performing a notarial act. Firstly, you must record the ID information of the signer(s) which includes the full name on the ID, type of identification and issuing agency, expiration and/or issue date, and serial number. SD Signings recommends recording the signer’s address, date of birth, and any other identifying or additional details.

Secondly, you must record the document information, which includes the document name and/or description, and the document date. If there is no document name, then a general description of the document can be recorded instead.

SD Signings recommends jotting down additional details that indicate the document’s intentions further, such as parcel number, property address, or the names of the people intended to receive the home.

Lastly, you must record the notarial act information, which includes the date, time, and type of notarial act performed, such as acknowledgment or jurat.

SD Signings recommends making notes to make clear the atmosphere of the signing, such as if elderly signers were present but still aware, or if the signing took place in a public space with no alcohol consumption.

It is important to record all the information required by law, as it will serve as a record of the notarial act and can be useful in the event of a future dispute regarding the signing of the document.

4. Signer requests the notarial act.

A notary is prohibited from providing legal advice, including advising the signer on what type of notarial act they require. The signer must make this determination on their own. Ideally, the document will already contain clear notary verbiage indicating the necessary notarial act. However, if the document does not include this information, and the signer is uncertain about the type of notarial act they need, the notary may explain the differences between the various notarial acts available and how they work. Additionally, it may be helpful for the signer to contact the receiving agency to confirm which notarial act is required.

The two most common notarial transactions are acknowledgments and jurats. Here is a brief overview of each:

Acknowledgments: This type of notarial act involves a signer appearing before the notary and acknowledging that they have willingly signed the document they are presenting. The signer may have signed the document previously or directly in front of the notary.

Jurats: This type of notarial act involves a person swearing or affirming before the notary that a document is true and correct. The person then signs the document in the presence of the notary.

5. Examine docs, administer oaths, and sign documents.

Completing Documents: Protecting Everyone.To ensure the integrity of a document, it is essential to review it in its entirety and check for any blanks before signing, stamping, and delivering it. Failure to do so creates the risk that the document can be altered later, resulting in the signer’s intentions not being carried out, leaving the signer unprotected, and increasing the possibility of fraudulent activity.

Administering oaths and/or affirmations for jurats. When performing a “jurat” notarial act, the notary is required to administer an oath or affirmation. To do so, the notary raises their right hand and asks the signer, “Do you affirm before me that the statements on this document are true, accurate, and correct?” The signer then responds, “I do” or “yes.”

Once all the above notarial parameters have been met, the signer can proceed to sign the document. However, some receiving agencies may have specific requirements for how the document should be signed. For example, California’s county recorders and most residential lenders typically require a “full signature, exactly as name appears on documents.” This means that if a signer has an abbreviated or illegible signature, it may not be accepted by the receiving agency. It is best for the notary and the signer to review any instructions that come with the documents or contact the appropriate party if there is a question about signatures. A full signature would typically be in a cursive or script format, with the signer having signed every part of the name indicated by the document.

SD Signings recommends to have the client affirm that documents are already completed in their entirety before setting up an appointment. If there are any questions about what information should be filled in within the document, direct the signer to the receiving agency of the document, their industry professional, or an attorney for legal advice.

6. Collect signatures and thumbprints for the notarial journal.

In the earlier stage of the signing process, you recorded each document that required a notarial act within your notarial journal. Now, the signer needs to sign their name next to each of these entries to acknowledge that they signed the document and requested the notarial act. This serves as a record for future reference and helps protect the signer’s intentions. They must sign an entry for each document that was notarized during the current session.

Certain documents, such as deeds, powers of attorney, and property-related documents, require the signer’s thumbprint to be taken in the notarial journal. It is a best practice to take a thumbprint for every document that is notarized, as it serves as the best identifier that the individual was truly present at the time of the notarial act. While it may be a rare instance, taking a thumbprint helps protect against fraud and provides additional security for the signer and the notary.

7. Attach notary certificate to document.

Next, you should attach the notarial certificate to the document. Make sure that you have chosen the appropriate verbiage for the notarial act chosen by the signer and fill out the certificate accordingly. Here are the items that you need to fill out on a notarial certificate:

  • Venue – State and County where you are standing while doing the notarial act.
  • Today’s Date – The date of the notarial act.
  • Notary’s Name – As it appears on the commission and stamp.
  • Signer’s Names – As identified.
  • Notary Signature – As provided to the Secretary of State.
  • Notary Seal/Stamp.

In addition to the above, there are some optional items that you may include on the certificate, such as:

  • Thumbprints of Signers.
  • Document Description.
  • Specific Document Details.
  • Page Numbers and
  • Exhibits Attached.
  • Document Date.

SD Signings recommends collecting payment for your services at this time.