What About Witnesses?

Some books or articles about Notary practices mention Subscribing Witnesses as a last-ditch method of getting a document notarized. In the states that allow these, they will appear before the Notary with their I.D. (or be personally known to the Notary) and have the document already signed by the principle signer and they will swear under oath that they saw the principle sign the document.

So far as I can tell, Tennessee does not allow such a use of a witness. The signer of the document must personally appear before the Notary, except in those instances when their attorney-in-fact appears for them and presents both their own I.D. and the Power of Attorney document which designates them as the attorney-in-fact for the absent signer. I will have more to say about Powers of Attorney elsewhere in this book.

In Tennessee, the term Subscribing Witness is used to describe a witness who was present when the principle signed the document before the Notary and law or custom requires additional witnesses besides the Notary. So, a Subscribing Witness in Tennessee appears WITH the principle signer before the Notary and both sign at the same time. If you see the term Subscribing Witness used in any of the books listed in the Appendix of this book, please be aware of the different meanings of the term.

The Subscribing Witness in Tennessee may also be called an Attesting Witness, as their function is to attest to the willingness, awareness and competence of the signer when they executed the document being notarized. I have seen subscribing or attesting witnesses most often on Last Wills and on the Advance Care Directive which you can find for free on the Secretary of State’s website (this Directive took the place of the Living Will, per that site). They are also sometimes used on Powers of Attorney, especially if it is for health care.

The other type of witness used in Tennessee is the Credible Witness, who must be personally known to the Notary and who must personally know the persons signing the document and who must appear with the signers and take an oath that the signers are who they say they are. Due to these requirements (which appear in Tennessee law and may not be the same in other states), the Credible Witness is a rarely-used way of identifying someone who needs to have a document notarized but who is not known personally to the Notary and who lacks any of the forms of proper I.D. authorized for use by Tennessee Notaries.

In the many years of my Notary service, I have used a Credible Witness less than a handful of times.

A Credible Witness is useful when you have someone contact you to have a document notarized and they lack I.D. and are unable to get I.D. before they need the document notarized, as you can suggest that they contact someone they know who may know a large number of people (such as the minister of their church) among whom may well be a lawyer, paralegal, insurance agent, or bank officer who is a Notary. The minister (or other person with a large number of people in their personally-known circle) could serve as the Credible Witness.

(This is an excerpt from the first draft of Tim’s Tennessee Notary Book: A Layman’s Guide to Being a Notary Public in Tennessee. As I am NOT an attorney, I am not authorized to provide legal advice or to accept payment for giving legal advice. Nothing in this blog post or any other writing by me is intended to be legal advice or opinion. Please check with an attorney in your jurisdiction for any legal questions you may have.)


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