Can a Notary Refuse to Notarize a Document?


11 Situations where Refusing a Notarization may Make Sense

(**) Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning our website, RealEstateCareerHQ.com, will get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, but at no additional cost to you.

Is there any situation where a notary can say “no” to a notarization? I just read through “The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility” from the National Notary Association (NNA). Apparently, there are many situations you may decline to do so.

A notary may refuse to notarize a document if the notarization violates the State Laws or the notarization cannot be done properly on reasonable grounds. Unlawful transactions, incapable of identifying the signer, signer’s incapacity are common causes of notarization refusal.

In this post, I’ll go over situations that could be reasonable to refuse a notarization assignment. And those that are not okay to decline. I hope this article could help to enhance your notary best business practice.

But before we start, I want to give a brief disclaimer. This post is not intended as legal advice or state/federal notary public training. It is for general information only. Every state could have different laws and regulations. Please always follow your state’s notary laws and best practices.

Would you like to learn how to make $75 to $200 per signing appointment? Check out this loan signing training program from Mark Wills. (**) He is one of the highest producing notary loan signing agents in the country.

11 Situations where Refusing a Notarization may Make Sense

Can a notary refuse to notarize a document?

1) Cannot identify the signer

This could happen if the signer cannot provide you with a photo ID (i.e., driver’s license, passport). Or the photo on the ID is damaged that you cannot confidently confirm it is the signer. 

Be sure to check that the identification document is valid and has not expired. 

2) Signer is not physically present

Some states require the notary and the signer to meet physically in person.  

For example, you could be meeting a signer in his house. When you arrived at his place, you realized that he wasn’t at home. Rather, he signed the document in advance. He left them to his family and expected you to pick up and notarize it. 

In such a scenario, it doesn’t fulfill the meeting in-person requirement. 

On a separate note, many states now have the option for Remote Online Notarization (RON). So this could bring great convenience as you may verify the signer through an audio-visual conference. However, most states would require you to use an approved technology software. Platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp are often not on the approved list. 

3) Notary’s limitation 

Refuse to notarize a document due to notary's limitation

In some situations, it could be impossible for you to perform the notarization. For example, 

  • you could be sick in a hospital;
  • you injured your hand and have a cast on, which prevents you from signing;
  • you are on vacation and out of the country

But rather than leaving your client hanging, you may refer them to another notary who can temporarily help out your notarization work. 

4) The signer is unwillingly or unknowingly

Notary refuses to notarize a document since signer is unwillingly or unknowingly

One of the core principles is that the signer needs to know what they are signing, and they do so at their free will.

Sometimes when I read the news, I would come across tragedy where elderly people are being taken advantage. Their adult children either trick them or force them into signing papers to re-mortgage their property or change their estate plans.

However, although you must make sure that the signer understands what they are signing, it is not your position to explain the contents of the document.

If the signer has any questions, they should contact the entity which prepared the document. For example, if they have any questions about the mortgage’s term, they should contact the lender.

5) The signer or you is not present in your commission state

Notary refuses to notarize a document because signer or notary is not present in the commissioned state

A signer contacts you to notarize a document, but she is not physically present in the state where you hold your notary commission.

Although, technically speaking, you can meet the signer through Remote Online Notarization. This may violate the Notary Laws, which require both the notary and signer to be present in the commissioned state.

On a side note, it is possible to notarize an out-of-state document. Here’s a post which talks more about it.

6) Conflict of interest

Notary refuses to notarize a document due to conflict of interest

This happens if you have any financial interest in the transactions. For example, you are obtaining a mortgage from a lender. Therefore, you cannot notarize your own signature.

The conflict of interest could occur even if you are not directly involved in the transaction. Most states would prohibit you from notarizing signatures for your spouse. Other parties that could lead to a potential conflict of interest include notarizing for relatives, family members, or business partners.

7) This document is for an unlawful transaction

If you know or suspect the transaction is false, illegal, or deceptive, then you should not notarize it. Even if you did, I’m unsure whether the documents are enforceable.

However, the legality of a case is not always that obvious. You may consult with the State Notary Department whenever there is any doubt.

8) Signer refuse to swear or affirm the contents of the document

Notary refuses to notarize a document because signer refuses to take an oath

Many documents required the signer to take an oath and affirm that the contents provided are true and accurate to the best of their knowledge.

When you filled out the notary public commission application, you also need to take such an oath in front of another notary.

However, you cannot perform a notarization if the signer refuses to do so.

9) The request is not within your regular office hours

Notary refuses to notarize a document since it is not within regular office hours

I agree that it is good to accommodate the signer’s needs and get the job done. But the meeting time also needs to be reasonable.

I don’t think a client calling you at midnight and expect you to show up at their place at 2:00 am would be considered reasonable.

However, a notary shared an experience with me. He once did meet a signer in the middle of the night at an airport. That was an urgent case, and the signer was about to leave the country in a few hours. The notary made a one-time exception in meeting in this case.

But whether you want to incorporate such a challenging schedule is really up to you.

10) The signer is not paying the required fee

You only have a hobby and not a business if you’re not generating revenue. So you must get compensated fairly for your services.

The unpaid situation is less likely to happen when notarizing mortgage loan documents. Because, lenders are usually the one who pays the signing fee, and not the signer.

11) Document issues

Notary refuses to notarize a document due to documents issue

Blank spaces, missing pages, and excessive whiteout without proper initials are common problems that deter notarizing.

But there are also times where the problem may not be the documents. Rather, the notary does not have sufficient training or authority to perform such notarization.

For example, most notaries cannot notarize documents for U.S military personnel or their family member from aboard. It requires a special notary commission that is granted by the federal level and not the state.

These are the situations you should NOT say “no” to a notarization.

Notarization refusal discrimination

Although you have certain rights to refuse a notarization, you cannot do so based on gender, race, religion, age, lifestyle, disability. Else, you could be charged with discrimination.

I understand that there could be controversial documents that you may disagree with. (i.e., same-sex unions, assisted suicide, abortion, use of medical marijuana) But keep in mind that your notarization does not mean you are endorsing the content of the documents.

The most important is whether the document is legit in the viewpoint of the State Laws.

Also, don’t try to game the system by increasing the signing fee to an unreasonable amount or schedule the meeting at an awkward time or place.

If those are inconsistent with your regular practice, you could end up having lots of explaining to do with the regulator or even jeopardize the notary public commission.

Here are some tips when refusing to perform a notarization

Tips for refusing to perform a notarization

1) Record the refusal in your notary journal

This record could be crucial proof when your refusal comes into questioning. You should record the date, time, location of the meeting, the signer’s name, and the type of documents involved. In addition to that, you must include notes explaining why you refuse to notarize the document.

Also, is it correct that you have already done everything you reasonably could before the refusal? For example, if the signer’s driver’s license is expired, did you ask them to show you another piece of valid identification document?

And after the refusal, did you notify the involving parties? (i.e., the escrow offices when you’re handling the mortgage documents.)

2) Know the notary laws

You must know when it’s the right situation to refuse and when it’s not. The best is to study the Notary Public Handbook. Every state has such a guide to walk you through their rules and regulation.

Alternatively, you may read over the Notary Section of the State Statutes Code. Just find the keywords “refuse,” “prohibit,” and usually lead you to the section that explains the rule.

If you need further clarification, you may consult the Secretary of State’s Office.

3) Explain calmly and firmly to the signer

Notary explaining why refuse to notarize a document

Not every client is understanding. If they expect you to perform the notarization, but you refuse, it’s normal that they would be frustrated. Especially, the completion of the paperwork is time-sensitive and involves a significant transaction.

You may explain to them the reason you refuse to notarize. Even if you proceed, the enforceability and legality of the documents are questionable.

Some signers may try to convince you and pressure you into notarizing. But keep in mind that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. You must stand firm in following the proper procedure.

4) Read the Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility 

This guide is an excellent resource written by the National Notary Association (NNA). I also refer to it from time to time as I’m preparing for this post. 

Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020 - National Notary Association (NNA)

It is a 97-pages comprehensive guide, which shares the best business practice of being a notary. One thing I really like about this guide is that it includes practical illustrations. Rather than giving you hard-to-read rules, those are vivid examples you can relate to in your daily practice. 

For notarization refusal, you may want to read over

  • Guiding Principle I: 
    • Article A: Refusal to Notarize;
    • Article E, Ability and Availability to serve;
  • Guiding Principle II:
    • Article B: Other Conflicts of Interest

5) Don’t confuse best practice with the notary laws

home inspector real estate appraiser

Admittedly, it is good to perform notarization according to the best business practice. You should have a consistent procedure so you won’t have to re-invent the wheels for every signing job.

However, some procedures are “good-to-have” but may not be mandatory. For example, you may ask the signer to sign your business journal to acknowledge your notes’ content. If they refuse to do so, and this is not a State Law requirement, you still need to perform the notarization.

Final thoughts on refusing to notarize documents

I understand we all want to complete a notarization assignment and get paid accordingly. But you must make sure everything is complying with the State Notary Laws and regulations. It is always better to be careful now than sorry later.

Another protection for your business is to obtain E&O insurance. This provides coverage in case there is any negligence on your part. Even so, you should understand the policy’s terms and conditions before you purchase it.

Once again, this post is for general information only. It is not intended to provide any legal advice. You should always check with the Secretary of State’s Office and the State Laws for exact details.

So that’s all I can share for now. Have you ever refused to perform a notarization? Or what are some situations that you think it is reasonable to do so?

Please share in the comments below.

If you are reading up to this point, I bet you must be interested in the notary signing profession. But why reinvent the wheel when there is a proven system that works? Many students had great success following the Loan Signing System (LSS) from Mark Wills. You may click here to check it out yourself. (**)

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information only, and not intend to provide any advice. They are subjected to change without any notice, and not guaranteed to be error-free.

(**) Affiliate Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you. Our website, RealEstateCareerHQ.com, will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking on the link. Please understand that we include them based on our experience or the research on these companies or products, and we recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions we make if you decide to buy something through the links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

References:

  • The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020 (source)

Jacob Coleman

Jacob is a content writer and a real estate investor. He has experience working with different real estate professionals throughout the years. (i.e., appraisers, real estate agents, property managers, home inspectors.) In order to build a career you love, Jacob believes not only you need a thorough understanding about the profession, but you also have to find out what type of jobs could match your personality, lifestyle and expectation.

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