My Grandmother Can’t Leave Her House
I had a call recently from a nice young woman and this is what she said “My grandmother can’t leave her house. I want to bring her signed document to you to be notarized.” I had to tell her no. This article explains why.
The first duty of a notary public is to verify the identity of the person who is signing the document. If the document is being sworn to or affirmed, the signer has to sign it in front of the notary and take the oath or affirmation that the notary administers. If the document is not being sworn to, just acknowledged, the signer can sign it at any time and bring it to the notary to be notarized. If the notary offers mobile services, the notary can come to the signer at a location that is more convenient for the signer. In all cases, the notary has to see the signer in person. This is so the notary can verify their identity and determine that they are the person whose name appears on the document being signed and notarized.
The notary may be able to verify the signer’s identity through personal knowledge, through one or more credible witnesses, or through a government-issued I.D. of some sort (driver license, state-issued ID, military ID, passport, gun permit, and so forth). However the notary verifies the identity of the signer, she will need to see the signer and the document in order to do that.
The second duty of a notary public is to verify that the person signing the document did so freely and willingly. (Please see my article on the American Association of Notaries site about what Freely and Willingly means.) If the signer is unable to communicate well enough that the notary is certain they are signing freely and willingly, she has to refuse to notarize. If the document is missing pages or if it has blanks that need to be filled in before it is sworn to, the notary can not notarize until those are taken care of. If the signer does not actually want to sign the document or does not understand why the document is being signed, the notary has to refuse to notarize. In other words, the notary needs to have a conversation with the signer to be sure there are no facts of the matter that would require her to refuse to notarize before she can proceed.
The third duty of a notary public is to make an official record of the notarization. This is done with a notary journal and the signer must be present to sign the journal, as well as the document. If credible witnesses were used to verify the signer’s identity, they will have to be there to take an oath and sign an Affidavit about that. This Affidavit is an additional document and will also need to be entered into the notary journal. If there were any other witnesses who signed the document, such as what generally happens with Last Wills and with some powers of attorney, their identity information and signatures will have to be entered in the notary journal.
The fourth duty of a notary public is to actually witness the signer (and any required witnesses) sign the document or acknowledge having signed it previously. In fact, this is the most important of her duties, as the others serve no purpose without her actually witnessing the events described in the notary certificate. Only after the notary has verified the identity of the signer and that they are (or have) signed the document freely and willingly and made an official record of the notarization is she able to say she fulfilled the role of Official Witness. The need for impartial, official witnesses is one major reason that notaries public exist.
Finally, the fifth duty of a notary public is to determine that all of the statements in the notary certificate (which appears on the document) are true and complete before she signs, dates, and seals the certificate. All notary certificates say, in one way or another, that the signer appeared before the notary at the time of the notarization and did something (either swore an oath, affirmed under penalty of perjury, or acknowledged their free and willing execution of the document). So, she can not put her signature below that notary certificate if the signer of the document does not appear before her.
What all this means is that it would be illegal and a violation of the duties of a notary for her to notarize a document brought to her by someone other than the signer.
A mobile notary could go to the grandmother’s house and, if the grandmother had proper ID and was signing freely and willingly, she could notarize for the grandmother there in the home. Of course, a mobile notary will expect to be paid a trip fee for this extra service, in addition to her usual notary fees. It is only fair that the notary is paid for coming to you; gas is not free and there is wear and tear on the vehicle, as well as travel time involved. If you want to avoid the trip fee, you will need to take grandmother to the notary.
(Please note the following about this. First, these statements are made for notaries public who operate under the jurisdiction of the State of Tennessee. Some other states do things a bit differently, so not everything in this article is true in every state. It is the duty of a notary public to know and follow the laws and rules in her state. Second, this article does not deal with a power of attorney situation in which someone is actually authorized to sign for another person. Third, as a deliberate choice and a matter of practice, I have used “she” and “her” when referring to a notary in this article. This is because I believe most notaries are female and because English lacks a good singular gender-neutral pronoun. While “they” can sometimes be used as singular, I have chosen to skip doing so for this article. Fourth, as stated in the Legal Notice, I am not an attorney, so none of this should be taken as legal advice or legal opinion. )