A Notary is an impartial witness to the signing of important documents. Spouses, parents, siblings, and children often need documents notarized — but can you serve as a family member’s Notary without bias? Here are some helpful tips for handling notarization requests from family members.
Not All States Permit Notarizing For Relatives
If asked to notarize for a family member, the first thing to do is to check your state’s laws. A few states prohibit Notaries from notarizing for most family members. Others prohibit notarizing for specific family members. For example, Florida and Massachusetts do not allow notarizing the signatures of a Notary’s spouse, parents or children, and Massachusetts extends this prohibition to half- and step-relatives. North Dakota, Oregon, and West Virginia prohibit notarizing for spouses only. A Pennsylvania Notary may not notarize signatures on documents that the Notary’s spouse has a direct or pecuniary interest in.
On the other hand, many states, such as Texas, do not restrict Notaries from notarizing for relatives at all. Some states, including Alabama, California and Montana, caution Notaries against notarizing documents for relatives even though the law doesn’t specifically ban it.
If You’ll Benefit, Don’t Notarize It
Even if your state doesn’t restrict you from notarizing for a family member, you shouldn’t do it if you will benefit from the transaction in any way. If you are in a community property state, any transaction involving your spouse could potentially benefit you as well — even if your name isn’t on the document. Some states, such as California, don’t specifically ban notarizing for relatives but do prohibit it if the Notary has some kind of involvement in the notarized document. For example, California prohibits its Notaries from notarizing a document if the Notary has a direct financial or beneficial interest such as being named in the document or receiving a gift or benefit from a transaction detailed in the document apart from the Notary’s statutory fee.
If you’re not sure whether you’d stand to benefit from notarizing a document for a relative, it’s better to be safe and refer the relative to another Notary who’s not related or involved in the transaction.
The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility offers helpful guidance on this thorny subject. It urges the Notary to decline to notarize for close and step-relatives. It also calls for Notaries to avoid even the appearance of partiality, which can happen in many cases involving family members.
Always Follow The Rules
If your state allows notarizing for a relative, remember that you still have to follow all the normal rules for identifying the signer and completing the notarization. Just because the signer is your spouse, child or other family members, it doesn’t give you the right to ignore Notary laws. Your relative will still need to appear in person before you, be identified according to state law and sign your journal entry if a journal record is required in your state.
If You Have Questions, Ask
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure about notarizing for a family member. Your state Notary agency may be able to help you, and NNA members can contact the Notary Hotline for assistance.
By David Thun on December 14, 2016, in Best PracticesDavid Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.