Booking the Job
It’s all too common for the public to think of notaries as being sources of free legal advice. “But you know so much more about these things than we do”. And, more to the point: “Will this Power of Attorney allow me to access the safe deposit box?” The first statement was flattery, hoping to “open the notary up a little”, the second an invitation for you to provide a legal opinion. I keep reflecting on the words of the Chief Clerk at the New York County Clerk office. “You check the ID, give an oath, and notarize nothing more”. Foolishly, I asked a “can I also” question. “If you don’t understand – nothing more – perhaps you should hand in your commission now”.
Recalling the stern admonition from the Chief Clerk, I tell my client that I am not permitted to answer their question. What I can do is check the Power of Attorney to see that the Principal, Agent, Monitor and Successor Agent areas are completed correctly. I can also check to see if specific powers were initialed correctly. As a professional notary, I add embossing to each notarization, a requirement for use in some jurisdictions and courts. Of course my clients blithely ignore my words. They again ask: “Will this Power of Attorney allow me to access the safe deposit box?”
The question falls under the “suitability for use” category. Will what I have do what I want? My consistent answer is first “I don’t know” and second: Only the ultimate recipient is able to answer that question. That entity, be it person or organization makes that decision. I can proceed now to notarize the Principal and the Agent (there were no Monitors or Successor Agents). Or, you can submit the blank Power of Attorney form to the “ultimate recipient” and ask them if your submission will accomplish the purpose you intend. As is usually the case; my client did decide to go ahead with the Power of Attorney they downloaded from the Internet.
Processing the Job
Fee was collected prior to meeting in the reception area of the prison. The incarcerated was to be the Principal, my client the Agent. I had mentioned the need for proper ID with my client; he showed me two driver licenses. One was his, the other for the prisoner. We proceed with the facility entry procedures; only carrying into the secure area the Power of Attorney and a pen. About an hour and a half later, Power of Attorney properly notarized for both Principal and Agent; after we retrieve personal property from the check-in lockers. They really don’t like an embosser going into the facility.
As related to me by my client: The safe deposit box clerk sent me to see an officer. Sorry, that form is not acceptable to the bank. We have our own Power of Attorney form and its use is required. I see you had it notarized, however, the wording does not meet bank requirements. Just a moment, here it is; this is the form you need to complete and have notarized. That clearly was not what my client wanted to hear. The prison is located two counties north of Manhattan.
So, what went wrong? As is often the case, there was blame enough for both of us. The client assumed a Power of Attorney is a Power of Attorney; any of them will do anything. I was only told that notarization of a Power of Attorney was required at an upstate prison. With my mind on the ID issue, I did not press for how the document would be used. It seems “a bit much” to ask the Agent what powers were to be granted by the Principal. I “could” have asked “how would it be used”? It ended up as a redo, I lowered to 2/3 fee; supposedly with the right Power of Attorney form, from the bank; all went well.