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June 21, 2015

Seven Error Free Ways To Identify a Signer

When it comes to correctly certifying to the identifying signers, Notaries typically resort to one of two methods. First is the standard state issued identification (valid Driver License or State ID) that is current and the second is where the more experienced notaries resort to using credible witnesses when the signer does not have proper identification. On rare occasions, notaries who are confident in their work will use a subscribing witness to identify a signer who cannot physically appear in front of a notary to sign documents.

1. State issued ID or Driver License from any of the 50 states in the United States.
2. Valid International Driver License from Canada or Mexico only.
3. Valid U.S. Passports issued by the Department of State. Valid Foreign Passports stamped by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services.
4. Using two credible witnesses to identify the signer. Used when the notary does not know the witnesses and the witnesses does not have a beneficial interest in the transaction. The witnesses vouch for the identity of the signer when the signer does not have proper Identification.
5. Using one credible witness to identify the signer when the notary knows the witness and the witness can vouch for the identity of the signer.
6. Using a Subscribing Witness when the signer cannot appear in person to sign in front of the notary. Because of the susceptibility of fraud, a subscribing witness cannot be used for Real Estate transactions.
7. Valid Military ID that contains the name & picture of the signer, signature of the signer, serial or ID number as well as the issue date and/or expiration date.
Note: The only time a Notary can accept an expired ID or passport is if it was issued within the last 5 years.


1. Alien Registration Card (Green Card) for non-immigration documents (ยง 8230. Identification of affiant; verification). This can get tricky because the Green card issued by the Federal Government contains everything required in the military ID, but still is not approved by the Secretary of State.
2. Employment Authorization Card/Work Permits
3. Matricular Consular ID issued by the Mexican Consulate or many Central American countries.
4. International Driver License from any country other than Mexico and Canada.
5. Voter Registration or Election Card with picture and other biographical details from any country.
6. Birth Certificate with Social Security card
7. Department of Homeland Security Notice issued as temporary identification that has all the required elements in a military ID.



  1. If a client is in a nursing home because of stroke and lost the power of signing her signature. What do you do?

    Comment by JoanM — June 24, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

  2. This is an important topic. I am glad you state clearly and in all caps that these 7 ways to ID signers is for California. I know of one Illinois notary that found the procedure on the web for using to “credible” witnesses with IL driver’s licenses for a signer with no ID. The problem is that in Illinois the only acceptable credible witness is one known both to the Notary and the signer. Notaries must know the laws for their state and be careful what is on even good websites. If it says CALIFORNIA notaries and your from Alaska, then look up your laws. The importance of properly and LEGALLY identifying your signer remains the same, just adapt to your state. In Illinois you can find the Illinois Notary Handbook at Cyberdrive Illinois at this link: http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/ipub16.pdf

    Comment by Pete Begly — June 24, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

  3. I am a California Notary and Notary Educator. I appreciate all of your articles.

    I do see that in this article you mention subscribing witness. Which can not be done on any document involving real estate (except Deed of Reconveyance or foreclosure), power of attorneys or Jurats.
    I see only mentioned real estate. If the Principle can not appear before a notary an acknowledgement not associated with real Estate documents (except deed of reconveyance & foreclore) OR Power of Attorneys. Also NO Jurats. To make it easier. If the principle can’t appear you can’t give them an oath or get their thumbprint. So no document that would require an oath (Jurat). No thumbprint so no real estate documents except as stated above and No Power of attorney documents.

    **Also the subscribing witness can ONLY be identified by a single credible witnesses. **(Following the guidelines for single credible witness)

    Comment by Maureen Lazar — December 9, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

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