Frequently Ask Questions 

Can we notarize a document for an absent signer? NO

If you’re asking a Notary to notarize the signature of a person who is not present, you’re requesting a criminal act. Both you and the Notary could go to jail, be fined or both.

Can we notarize a document without identifying the signer? NO

A Notary’s most important duty is to positively identify each and every document signer to prevent forgery.

Notaries identify signers in one of three ways: 

1) their own personal knowledge* of the signer’s identity;

2) the sworn word of a personally known** third party (a credible witness); or

3) reliable identification documents or ID cards.

Reliable IDs should be current, government-issued and have a photograph, signature and physical description (height, hair color, etc.) of the signer. Cards such as state driver’s licenses and nondriver’s IDs, military IDs and passports are acceptable.

The following should not be used as identification:

• A birth certificate, Social Security card or other card without a photograph.

• The informal introduction by a friend, coworker or relative who is not willing to swear to their identity under oath and sign the Notary’s journal.

• Casual acquaintance of signer that would impede your ability to positively identify them through personal knowledge.

Will we notarize a document for someone who's awareness is uncertain? NO

Awareness is someone’s basic ability to understand what is going on and to be able to handle his or her own personal legal affairs. A Notary is expected to make a layperson’s commonsense judgment about a signer’s awareness. To do this, the Notary must be able to talk with the signer.  A signer must respond coherently to a Notary’s questions. If a signer is unable to do so, then there is doubt about the person’s awareness and the Notary has no choice but to refuse to notarize. If medication, weakness or some other temporary cause has left the signer groggy and unable to make sense to the Notary, then the notarization must be postponed. The Notary may not act based upon your assurance about a signer’s intention, or upon your description of a situation’s urgency. Unless a Notary clearly sees that a signer is aware of what is going on and is a willing participant, that Notary can’t notarize.

Can I use an interpreter? NO

A Notary must be able to communicate directly with any document signer. So, it is necessary that the Notary and document signer speak a common language and not use an interpreter.* The communication between Notary and signer must be direct and without reliance on an interpreter, translator or any other third party. 

Why no interpreter?

Because the Notary has a personal responsibility to screen each signer for identity, willingness and awareness. This duty cannot reliably be performed through an intermediary who may have a motive for misrepresenting the document or transaction to the signer, the Notary or both. Without direct questioning of a signer, a Notary could not be sure of that person’s intent to sign a particular document. And without direct communication, the Notary could not administer any required oath, since oaths can’t be given through a third party. So, please don’t ask this Notary to notarize for a friend or relative who can’t speak the Notary’s language — even if you offer to interpret. Find a Notary who can speak the same language as the document signer.

Can I use my marriage license as ID?  NO

It is imprudent and in some states illegal for a Notary Signing Agent to rely upon a marriage license to positively identify a borrower when the borrower’s driver's license, passport or other “primary” ID carries a different name.

It’s against the law to use a marriage license to verify a signer’s name in some states where an identification document must contain certain features — such as a photograph, signature and physical description. At best, a marriage license proves that two people were married on a given date; it does not contain information sufficient to positively identify either party to the marriage.

It is no argument to assert that “if you compare my driver’s and marriage licenses it’s obvious who I am,” or to plead with the Notary to “use it anyway since a rate lock will expire if you don’t, and the loan will fall through.” Since stolen, tampered or counterfeit marriage licenses can be used by clever identity thieves and scam artists to perpetrate property frauds, reliance on a marriage license to verify identity at the closing table is not a sound practice. The Notary may be able to proceed with the signing if one or more credible witnesses are willing to vouch that they know you in your married name. Ask the Notary to explore this option with you.

Can I use my spouse as a credible witness? NO 

When a borrower’s identity cannot satisfactorily be proven with an ID card, most states allow a signer to be identified by one or two credible witnesses. Invariably the question arises: Can a spouse serve as a credible witness? Let’s look at a couple of possible scenarios and then draw conclusions.

Scenario 1: Can a spouse who is a party to the loan be a credible witness? Answer: No. Common sense dictates — and state law often requires — that credible witnesses be disinterested in the transaction, and even more so if the spouse must swear as part of the oath that he or she is neither named in or a party to the transaction.

Scenario 2: Can a spouse who is not signing on the loan be a credible witness? Answer: It is ill-advised, because a spouse may still be an interested party even though he or she is not a signatory. The unnamed spouse, for example, may benefit from the transaction by residing in the purchased or refinanced property with the signing spouse.

The bottom line: Credible witnesses must be neutral, impartial and not affected by the transaction, either directly or indirectly. Otherwise, the transaction may be subject to challenge.

Can you notarize a document if my name doesn't match whats on the document? 

Does one of the following scenarios apply in your case?

Scenario 1: You just married. Your ID card contains your maiden name, but the deed of trust requires you to sign in your married name. Without another state-approved ID issued in the married name, the Notary must halt the signing unless a credible witness (or two, if law requires) can vouch for your identity in the married name.

Scenario 2: A deed requires you to sign in a hyphenated last name, but the ID card has only one of the names.  Ditto the above: you must be identified in the full hyphenated name.

Scenario 3: Your ID contains an initial for a middle name, but the mortgage instrument contains your complete middle name. To proceed, you must satisfactorily prove your full name. Again, reliance on the vouching of one or two credible witnesses who personally know your identity may be the solution.

Scenario 4: Your ID contains a stage name, but you must sign in your given name. Same answer.

Will we notarize an incomplete document? 

In some cases, it may be possible for one person to sign before a Notary on behalf of another (the principal) as a subscribing witness, as an attorney in fact or in another representative capacity. However, when the subscribing witness, attorney in

fact or other representative would gain — or have the potential of gaining — from the notarized document, the Notary is obligated not to notarize because of the clear-cut conflict of interest. A Notary would be unwise, for example, to notarize a power of attorney for a subscribing witness when the witness is the very person who would thereby be appointed attorney in fact. The witness has an obvious self-interest in the document and a possible motive for lying about the genuineness of the signature.

Likewise, a Notary would be unwise to notarize a deed for an attorney in fact acting on behalf of an absent person when the attorney in fact would thereby be granted the property. With all such conflicts of interest, the conscientious Notary should decline to perform the notarization. So, if you are signing in a representative capacity, please don’t ask a Notary to notarize in cases where you have an obvious conflict of interest.

Can we notarize a birth certificate? NO

A Notary is not authorized to notarize or certify a copy of a birth certificate, despite what you may have been told by a travel agency or airline Only a custodian of vital records can properly certify an original or copy of a birth certificate. Only that official

can verify that the birth information is accurate. Any other so-called certification by a Notary or anyone else is improper.

Furthermore, some states (including New York) flatly prohibit Notaries from certifying copies of any document. Other states (including Texas and Florida) prohibit Notaries from certifying copies of documents that come from another public official, such as a custodian of birth records. And all states prohibit Notaries from using their seals just to make documents look official.

If you were born in the United States, you may readily obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate by calling or writing the department of health or registrar of vital statistics in the capital city of the state where you were born. If you’ve been told to get a notarized birth certificate to travel to Mexico or another nation, you’ll just have to obtain other proof of U.S. citizenship. The most common document used for proof of citizenship is a U.S. passport. 

Can we backdate your document?  NO

If you are asking the Notary to write a date other than today’s date — the actual date of notarization — on an official Notary certificate, then you may be accused of soliciting an illegal act, which is itself a crime. The only date the Notary may lawfully write on a jurat or acknowledgment certificate is the date the signer actually appeared in person for the notarization.

Society places great trust and faith in the truthfulness of facts in a Notary’s certificate, since these facts can decide a lawsuit or result in the transfer of valuable property. That’s why the penalties for untruthfulness by a Notary are so severe. Indeed, even though Notaries aren’t required to read the documents they notarize, they are expected to withhold their services if they happen to know that a document contains a false date or any other deceptive information. Even if you feel, “Who’s gonna know?”, please don’t ask the Notary to be a party to any falsehood. Both you and the Notary would risk criminal prosecution.


             To reference this information please visit the National Notary Association SORRY NO CAN DO! publication.