A notary signing agent (or NSA) wears two hats, which is another way to say you fulfill two roles while on an assignment as an NSA. Sometimes, the client will cause these roles to conflict with each other.
First, you are a Notary Public — This is your primary role. As a notary public, you must follow ALL notary laws, other relevant federal and state laws, regulations, and other standards for proper notary procedures. If you don’t know what is expected of you as a notary, you need to get some good training before you offer to be a notary signing agent or NSA.
Second, you are a Signing Agent – This is your secondary role. As a signing agent, you must follow instructions of your client in so far as they don’t conflict with your role as a notary public. This means you can give industry standard descriptions of the purpose and function of the documents, but not explain the contents of a specific document in this specific package or otherwise act as a paralegal or lawyer, unless you are one. You can use some of the expertise you acquired from your training, your research, your experience, and the instructions from your client (or the title company or the lender) to point the consumer toward specific details in documents if they ask about those. You can not answer “what does that mean?” or “which choice should I make here ?” or “why is it this amount?” or “is this a good deal?” questions, as those are beyond the scope of the role of the signing agent.
What these two hats mean is that you are a notary public on every notarized document and the standards of being a notary public apply. On any non-notarized documents, you are only a signing agent and the instructions of your client apply. Even on the non-notarized documents, you have to keep in mind that you are not there to advocate for or promote one “side” or another in the transaction, as doing so would violate the impartiality standard required of all notaries public.
As a notary signing agent, you are there
- to verify the identity of the signer(s),
- to be sure they are signing freely and willingly on any notarized documents,
- to admininster an oath or affirmation when required by the document or the notary certificate, and,
- if they do choose to sign the documents, to walk them through the package, making sure they follow any instructions you have been given on how to sign, initial, and date the documents.
If your client’s instructions say you can not alter any document without their permission, this does not apply to correcting the venue or the contents of the notary certificate when they are wrong, as you have full authority to make corrections to those elements by virtue of your commission as a notary public. This should be understood by anyone who contracts with a notary public — that the notary is required to follow notary laws, rules, ethics, and other standards first, and that this includes making those corrections.
If your client’s instructions conflict with the standards of being a notary public, their instructions can not be followed and you should inform your client when this is the case. Although you may sometimes be tempted to just go ahead and do what you need to do as a notary public and hope they don’t object, there may be problems with that approach to the conflict.
Correcting the venue or replacing a notary certificate that does not comply with the laws of your state are generally not going to raise an issue, but even those have been the cause of pushback from some clients who are under the mistaken belief that the way their office does things is the only acceptable way they can be done.
So, informing your client when their instructions conflict with the standards of notary practice in your state gives you an opportunity to avoid objections after you have done the work (which may result in you not getting paid or being shorted if they bring in a less-knowledgable notary to “fix” what they believe was your “mistake”). It also gives you a chance to decline the assignment if it becomes clear that they insist their instructions take precedence over the law and other standards of notary practice.
A reasonable and well-informed client will issue instructions that do not conflict with the law and other standards of notary practice. It is always best to seek out and work with such clients — and avoid working for those who are unreasonable or not as well-informed. Client demands can be trying at times, but any demand that you violate the standards of notary practice should be refused.
This article could be seen as a follow up to one I wrote several years ago on my least favorite comment from clients: No Other Notary Had a Problem with That.