Hospital Signings – For the Public
“The primary issue for the notary to decide is whether the signer knows what the instrument is when executing a signature thereon. ” – Peter J. Van Alstyne, JD, in Notary Law, Procedures & Ethics (Notary Law Institute, 1998).
The term “hospital signing” is used by Notaries Public and others to refer to instances where documents are going to be signed at a hospital, rehabilitation center, nursing home, long-term care facility, or other health care property.
Hospital signings present a number of concerns, each of which must be adequately addressed in order for the signing to be a productive and successful event for all involved.
The first issue is that of identifying the signer(s). As with all other documents being notarized, a notary has to either personally know the person signing or she has to establish that person’s identity on the basis of satisfactory evidence. In Tennessee and many other states, satisfactory evidence of identity is defined as “the absence of any information, evidence, or other circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person making the acknowledgment is not the individual he or she claims to be, together with any one of the following” —
a Credible Witness personally known to the Notary who is present and who takes an oath or affirmation (in the form of a written Affidavit) that the person signing is who they say they are; OR
a Drivers License, State-issued I.D. card, Passport or Military I.D. card.
There are also specific details that must be present on the I.D. cards or Passport. These are the ONLY forms of I.D. that are acceptable in Tennessee. If the signer does not have one or more of these forms of I.D. and is not already personally known to the notary, the signing can not take place. (Other states may have a different list of what are acceptable forms of I.D.)
The second issue is that of determining that the signer is executing the document freely and willingly and with awareness of its purpose and content. There may be a concern due to medication, physical limitations, a recent stroke, or other matters. It may be necessary to clear the room of everyone except the notary, the signer, and any witnesses who are signing the document in order to have a conversation with the signer to be sure they are not under any undue influence to proceed against their own wishes. If the signer is unable to communicate with the notary well enough so that she can be confident that the signer is aware of what they are doing and that they are doing it freely and willingly, the signing can not take place.
A notary public is not expected to be able to determine mental capacity, as that is a medical judgment call. The role that the notary plays is to determine whether the signer is aware of what they are doing and is doing it freely and willingly. My attorney stated that he uses a 4 point system : are they oriented in identity (do they know who they are), in time (do they know what day or date it is), in space (do they know where they are), and in purpose (do they know what the document is for and what it will do if they sign it). Other authorities have stated all that is required is a simple conversation with open-ended questions to see if the signer is awake and aware and wants to proceed. As the National Notary Association has published articles recently warning against elder financial abuse, I stick with my attorney’s advice and use his 4 point system.
The third issue is one of medication and scheduling. If the signer has been administered certain medications within the past several hours, they may not be sufficiently aware to proceed. If they are asleep when the notary arrives, waking them up can take time, which adds to the time the notary has to set aside for the appointment.
The fourth issue is visitors’ hours, sign-in procedures, other hospital policies, and parking. These can add significant amounts of time to the appointment, as the notary will need to arrive early and spend some time after the signing to deal with them.
The fifth issue is the document or documents to be signed. Other than in Louisiana, a notary public who is not an attorney (or a paralegal working under the supervision of an attorney) is not authorized to prepare documents. So, the signer will need to have the documents before the appointment. If the documents you need are for health care, you may be able to obtain them from the hospital or from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. If you need some form of a Power of Attorney or a Last Will & Testament, you may find those on Nolo.com, LegalZoom.com, or at some office supply stores (FedEx Office has some of them, as does Office Max/Office Depot). Many notaries discourage the use of forms obtained from anyone other than an attorney, as only an attorney is required to know the current law in your jurisdiction and so only an attorney can prepare a fully-updated form. While I understand their concern and see the validity of it, I do not believe it is my place to pass judgment on the worthiness of a document presented to me to be notarized. So, whether your document came from an attorney, a store, or an online site, if it can be notarized, I will notarize it unless the circumstances of the notarization give me a reason to say no.
Please be sure to check the document itself to see whether witnesses are required and, if so, what limitations there may be on who can serve as a witness. The notary will not bring witnesses with them, so if any are required, the signer will need to provide them.
In order to reduce waiting at the signing, it is a good idea for all of the documents to be completed other than the signature and date BEFORE the notary arrives. Always wait to sign and date the document in front of the notary so that the notary and any other required witnesses can witness the signing.
The sixth issue is the unauthorized practice of law. A notary who is not an attorney (or a paralegal working under the supervision of an attorney) is not authorized to explain what a document means, how to fill it out, or whether it will accomplish a particular purpose. Those are questions that must be directed to an attorney, as those questions are asking for legal opinions and legal advice, which is something a notary can not give.
The seventh issue is the notary fee and any trip fee or convenience fee charged for traveling to the hospital. As allowed by law in my state, I base my fees on the scope of work and when and where it is being done. So, for a hospital signing, I charge a notary fee for each document notarized, a trip fee for travel to/from the hospital, and a convenience fee if the signing is taking place after hours during the week or any time on Saturday or Sunday. My fee for a hospital signing is due in cash upon arrival. If the signer is unable to complete the signing for any reason, I will refund the portion of the fee that was my notary fee for any documents not notarized, keeping only the trip fee and any convenience fee or notary fees for documents that were notarized. When a customer calls to make an appointment, we will discuss the particulars of their request and they will know what the fee is before I arrive. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, I require that the person making the appointment either email or text me the details after we speak, along with a brief statement saying they will have my fee available in cash when I arrive. Some other notaries may require that the customer pay in advance via paypal or by other methods.
While this list of issues may seem challenging, I do regularly provide hospital notary services and I do appreciate the opportunity to do so. If I can assist you with your hospital notary signing, please contact me.