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September 6, 2018

UPL — Unauthorized Practice of Law in the Notary Profession

Unauthorized practice of law… what does this phrase really mean? The sad truth is that this concept is widely misunderstood, and differs from state to state. The definition of UPL (not UPS) is generally arbitrary and is often set by bar associations set on protecting the financial interests of their Attorneys who don’t want any unnecessary competition in the legal services field. So, one could say that Attorneys as a group are engaged in a form of corruption and using the law to enforce standards that serve no purpose other than to eliminate competition (sounds like the mafia). Instead of burying you in cement, a bar association can investigate a person suspected of UPL, and sue them or perhaps fine them for huge mounts of money leaving the Notary essentially financially broken.

Case Study
One of the Notaries listed on our site lost or almost lost (forgot the story as it was from a decade or more ago) $40,000 for doing a loan signing in a state where Notaries are not allowed to do such things.

Attorney States
In certain states that we refer to as Attorney States, only Attorneys are allowed to do loan signings. The premise is that by engaging in the facilitation of a loan signing, that you are making an unstated assertion that you have the same knowledge as a Mortgage Broker, Lender or Attorney and that you can explain the documents. This is simply not true. When a Notary goes to a loan signing, some Notaries do not explain any terms or documents while some do. In my opinion you should catch a Notary in the act explaining a legal term and then bust them. But, merely by facilitating the signing a loan in an Attorney state, a Notary can get busted.

States where Notaries are not supposed to facilitate the signing of loans include Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts and perhaps others. This information could be outdated and the interpretation of the rules is far beyond my capacity. However, many Notaries in all of these states advertise on 123notary claiming that they do signings. However, I have heard that they typically don’t do signings for properties that are in their state, but only for out of state properties. I have heard that this is still illegal, but I guess people are not getting caught. My word of advice is to consult an Attorney before doing something that could get you in trouble.

Notary unauthorized practice of law
As a general rule, drafting a legal document, giving legal advice, giving advice about a court case, giving advice about how to draft a legal document, or helping to interpret a legal document might be construed as unauthorized practice of law. However, I am not an Attorney and cannot say with any certainty or authority what constitutes UPL in any state. I am just relaying to you what I have read over the years. Additionally, explaining the terms of a loan or what certain mortgage terms mean might be considered UPL as well – once again, I am not sure, but you can ask an Attorney if you really want a definitive answer.

Choosing the Notary Act
As a Notary Public, it is the choice of the client or signer which type of Notary act they want. The Notary has the right to explain the various Notary acts to them and the rules that apply, but the Notary cannot choose for them. Under many circumstances there might only be one particular Notary act that the Notary would legally be able to perform. In such a case, the Notary should explain the circumstances, how to change the circumstances and ask if the signer wants to proceed as is.

It is common for Notaries while administering Jurats to automatically perform an Affirmation because they are afraid to offend people by administering an Oath. First of all the Notary is required to give the signer a choice as to which Notary act they want to have performed. Second, many people might be offended by Affirmations more than by Oaths. However, I can state with definitiveness that dogs prefer Affirmations.

Drawing in a Signature Line
It used to be common in loan signings for a document to have no signature line, yet have an instruction that it must be notarized. You cannot notarize a document without a signature, and how can you sign without a signature line? If the borrower draws in the line, that is their business, but if the Notary does it, are they practicing law?

Oregon Standards
I have heard that in Oregon, a Notary may not cross anything out on a Notary certificate, nor may they attach a new Notary certificate. But actions would be considered practicing law there as far a I know in my layperson capacity.

Summary
Unauthorized Practice of Law is a crime and is a very wishy-washy state-specific convoluted subject. Please ask an Attorney for a professional opinion on this subject if you are at all concerned.

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10 risks to being a Mobile Notary Public
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Notary loses $4000 in legal fees because fraud adds name to notary certificate.
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19477

5 books every notary should own and read
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=3668

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October 4, 2019

Is it practicing law to explain a notary act?

Filed under: Technical & Legal — admin @ 11:19 pm

Many Notaries think they are practicing law by explaining a notary act. Notaries are not allowed to choose a notary act on behalf of a client, but can they explain the requirements?

As a Notary, you have to have a signer sign in your physical presence for a Jurat, but not for an Acknowledgment (except in a few underpopulated states). So, are you practicing UPL or engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by explaining that distinction to a client?

For an Acknowledgment you do not have to sign in front of the Notary, although many lenders require the signer to do so. Is it UPL to explain that too?

Is it UPL to word an Oath for a client for their Affidavit? You kind of have to do that otherwise you cannot administer an Oath or Affirmation.

The fact is that your state authorizes you to do Notary work and perhaps even tests you on it. You are authorized do do all aspects of Notary work by law. You are not authorized to explain Mortgage documents but notary procedures are NOT Mortgage documents although they might be done to Mortgage documents.

How do you deal with this quandary?

You might also like:

Unauthorized practice of law in the notary industry
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=21317

30 Point Course – what to explain and what not to
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=14440

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February 15, 2013

Signing agent best practices: 63 points

Here are a few tips about best practices. Maybe none of your clients will care, or maybe they will even adamantly dislike your best practices. But, if you have any self-respect, you will engage in best practices.

LEGAL & TECHNICAL BEST PRACTICES

(1) Hand written documents.
As a notary, it is not illegal to notarize a hand written document. The issue is if there are cross-outs, or blanks. Blanks make it illegal to notarize, but cross outs are a question mark. Personally, if you care about best practices, and not ending up in court for some stupidity that the signer did, then require typed documents with no cross-outs or blanks.

(2) Don’t pick the type of notarization for your signer
That is their job. Legally, you can not choose for them.

(3) Blanks in documents
Put a line through the blanks or refuse the notarize. (that was quick)

(4) Cross-outs
I would avoid notarizing anything with a cross-out. If you can do a cross out, you don’t know if it was there before the notarization or not. If there is one before, what prevents there from being more after. You can forge an initial without being detected, so cross outs are an indication that you need a redraw.

(5) Affixing your seal over wording
This is illegal in many states. The notary seal should be placed in an area of the paper where there is no wording, and do not sign or write over the stamp impression or you void it. If there is no space, then attach a loose notary certificate and make sure you document all pertinent facts on it.

(6) Loose certificates
NEVER send a loose certificate in the mail or hand it to a client. Always attach the loose certificate to the document, preferably before affixing your notary seal. Always document the name of the document, document date (if any), number of pages in the document, document description on the certificate in addition to filling in the standardized state wording, signing and sealing the form.

(7) Journals
Keep thumbprints in your journal. If your state doesn’t require journals, write them a letter about how poor their standards are and then go and buy a journal from the NNA. Also, there is a section called, “additional notes” in your journal (hopefully). Please use this to write down anything unusual about the signer during the signing, or anything unusual about the circumstances. Write it so thoroughly, that when you are in court five years later about that signing which could have involved fraud on the part of the signer, that you will have your evidence handy! Impressive!

(8) Oaths
If you do sworn Oaths, make sure to have the affiant (know this term) raise their right hand. Make sure to study up on formal Oath wording. Oaths are serious, and you are a state appointed official, so keep it official, okay?

(9) Embossers
If you don’t have a 2nd notary seal, get one. Embossers create a RAISED inkless impression. Use it as your secondary seal, and you can affix it to all pages of all documents you notarize for security. There are many frauds out there who do page swapping after the fact. To avoid page swapping (which could lend you in court for something they did after the fact) use an embosser. That way when you get a phone call 2 months later to notarize that separate page they are adding, tell them that you have to do the whole thing all over again. Sorry Charlie, that is a best practice!

(10) Learn the correct verbiage for power of attorney signings
But, there are four accepted verbiage variations. My favorite is Joe Doe, as attorney in fact for Mary Doe. Always call the lender to find out what type of verbiage they want at a signing. Remember, it is their loan, and just as long as you are not breaking the law — do it their way!

(11) Overseas documents
People overseas have bizarre standards. Some require the stamp to be on the document itself no matter what, but they didn’t put the verbiage in for your state. There is nothing LESS legal about attaching an acknowledgment form, but it is not about the law at this point. It is about whether or not THEY like it! So, find a legal way to handle their overseas the way they like. Once I manually wrote in the California Acknowledgment verbiage by hand and then sealed it. It was legal. Not exactly a best practice, but if they won’t accept best practices, then settle for “best practices under the circumstances”. Chinese are a tough crowd — you will find out!

(12) Initialing
Many Title companies don’t like suffixes such as Junior, or IV at the ends of names. But, if you are Louis Remy Martin IV, then the IV is part of your name, the 4th part of your name to be precise. Ronald R Rubin initials RRR. Get the initials to be correct and thorough. And if a lender doesn’t like it, should you break a best practice for their happiness? I don’t know of any laws about initialing, but making an initial of each part of the name is only logical, right?

(13) Signing for confused elderly people
If you sign for a person in a hospital, or someone who is just elderly. Make sure you have whomever calls you READ the identification over the phone to you including the expiration date. Have them read the name on the document too. Elderly people can never find their ID’s, and if they assure you that they have it, don’t believe it, they are lying. Trust me. I know! I am experienced and you are not! Otherwise you would be writing this blog. Do not notarize an elderly person if they can not move their arm on their own. Do not let their daughter drag their arm across a page that they are signing. You can use the daughter’s arm as a brace, but not a movement device. If the elderly person can not paraphrase what the document says, DO NOT NOTARIZE. And, by the way, the night daughter might be a con-artist who is pretending to help the elderly woman, only to be trying to cheat the old lady out of her money. Notaries beware!

(14) When in doubt, call your state notary division
Sometimes the handbook is just not enough. It doesn’t include all situations, and it is not written in English either. Legalese is not my mother tongue, what about you? Call them and bug them. Do it right or not at all. The NNA offers a good notary law hotline too, but get your information from the SOURCE and call your state notary division as your first choice!

(15) Safeguarding your seal and journal
Keeping it under lock & key is the rule of many states. A locking bag, a locking file cabinet. Keeping it in your car, etc. But, honestly, property DOES get stolen, and you need to protect yourself the best way. If your goodies are in your car, keep in in a place where it won’t get taken in a break-in. Keep it under the seat, or behind some large container in the trunk. I kept it in my trunk, but where the robbers could see it. Everything was in a little bag, and they probably thought it was a lap top and valuable. They were in a rush and didn’t inspect it before they took it. If it is at home, keep it in a locked file cabinet instead of hanging around in your locked bag. Go above and beyond the law for best practices. Keep your seal in a place where it is least likely to be “robbable”.

(16) Be an expert at your state notary laws.
Look them up in your state notary handbook. Keep this book with you. It is your bible when you are at work.

(17) Be an expert at credible witness procedure, and signing by X procedure in your state.

(18) Be an expert at all notary and signing related knowledge.
Don’t half know it or kind of know it. Be an expert, and it will show. You will be higher on people’s list if you are.

(19) Keep four phone numbers with you at signings.
In jail you get one phone call. But, as a notary you get many, and should have three phone numbers. The number of the signing company, the lender, the borrower, and the lenders’s wife. Just kidding about the last one. You need to call the lender half the time at a signing because they are such a careless bunch, that they will not have thoroughly prepped the borrower for the signing, plus there might be unexpected surprises on the documents as well. Be prepared!

(20) Using your seal on a blank piece of paper.
ILLEGAL. However, if you go to a jail, they require this for security. So, affix your seal, and then cross it out and write the words void. It is no longer illegal. It is the BEST way to clean up a WORST practice that the jail makes you do. I joked with them and told them that I thought it was funny that I was being forced to break the law by a guard at a jail. What is the world coming to?

(21) Check the signature on the identification
Does the signature on the identification match the one on the document? Did you check? Start checking.

(22) Bad identification?
Is the identification peeling? Is the signature above the lamination? Does it look like a fake identification document? Do you even have a reference guide to know if it is fake? It is your business to know. Get the NNA book on identification and drivers licenses. Also, take thumbprints. Standards for identification should be a government issued photo ID with a physical description, serial number, signature, and expiration date. Nothing else will do. Whether or not the government issuing the document need to be in the USA or not depends on what your state laws are!

(23) Thumbprints
Take thumbprints for all Deeds, recorded documents, power of attorney — as a minimum. Do this regardless of what your state requires. It could keep you out of court, and time is money. Get an inkless thumbprint pad from the NNA. Get this today. You should not be without it for one nanosecond. They can fake an ID, and fake a signature, but you can not fake a thumbprint.

(24) Don’t notarize for people who ask you to break the rules or who look suspicious.
Are you notarizing a kidnapper, or is the signer under duress? Stay away! It is not worth the money and you could get involved in a nightmare that just doesn’t end. What if someone asks you to notarize them under a different name variation than is what their identification says, and you tell them it is not legal. What if they say, “Oh, come on!!!”. What if they threaten to not pay your travel fee if you don’t? First of all your travel fee should be paid in cash at the door, or just leave. Avoid this type of people. They will make your life twisted.

(25) Don’t backdate
Signing companies will put you under pressure to do this if a borrower will lose their lock. Just say no. Tell them that their lock is their business and that your business is obeying the laws of your state which say, “No backdating“. Tell them that the security of your commission is not worth their convenience. Just leave. Don’t deal with these frauds.

(26) Don’t use white out
White out is a worst practice and will get you fired. Cross outs are a bad practice as well.

(27) Name changes the kosher way
A processor I used to work with instructed me not to cross anything out. Just have the borrower initial under the last several letters of their last name and then sign the way the new name will be typed in the document. After the fact, the processor can type in the new name. The cross-out simply doesn’t help. They just need the initial. The processor can cross it out in a way that they think is professional.

(28) Don’t explain the specifics of the loan or when the loan will fund
Just explain the basic definitions of loan terms such as APR, or rate if your state allows that. Specific information particular to their loan is for their lender to discuss with them. You can get in trouble if you make any explanations or commentary about information specific about their loan. On the other hand, you should be an expert at looking up specific pieces of information. APR is on the TIL and perhaps the Settlement Statement, so tell them that and show them where it is. The interpretation of what the information on the Settlement Statement is up to them and their lender, not you!

(29) Don’t notarize for someone who you can not communicate directly with
Some states allow the use of interpreters. I say you should not as a best practice. The interpreter could be lousy, and misinterpret something that you said. You are leaving yourself open to communication gaps. If you speak a little Spanish and can get by, and the signer understands you and vice versa, that works. Don’t create opportunities for communication gaps. I have traveled to enough foreign countries to know that people in different cultures communicate differently, they say yes when they mean no, they lie, they misrepresent, they save face, and fail to explain things thoroughly (especially asians who do the quickie explanations that leave out 95% of the meaning). I am not knocking foreigners — I just don’t believe half of what they say — and I don’t believe half of what Americans say either since Americans are a bunch of liars too! Speak directly to your signers! Learn oath verbiage in Spanish, or whatever your rusty foreign language is. Learn how to ask if you understand the document.

(30) Have a registered business name
We have notaries on the site who change their business name on our site every month. Each month it is the name of the month. This is illegal. If you have a registered business name that is registered with your county, then that is your business name, and you should have a bank account that takes checks paid to that name.

(31) Don’t draft documents
Unless you are an attorney, or authorized to draft documents, don’t get involved. You can get into bad trouble.

(32) Don’t give legal advice
If you are not an attorney, do not give legal advice. Interpreting laws, or suggesting that a person take a particular legal action might be construed as legal advice or the unauthorized practice of law.

(33) Consult an attorney before doing modifications
Although modifications could be legal in some states under some circumstances, they are often done in an illegal way, and YOU are not knowledgeable to know the difference, or to know what you can or can not do. Consult an attorney or stay away!

PRACTICAL BEST PRACTICES

(34) If you don’t get paid on time, contact the Title company.
They might fire or discipline the signing company in that case.

(35) Charging travel fee in cash upon arrival
It is ILLEGAL for a notary to have beneficial interest in the signing. However, many clients including Title companies will simply not pay the notary if the documents or loan packages don’t get signed, notarized, and funded properly. Unfortunately, that is illegal to put the notary in the position where they will only get paid if they notarize. It is actually a MISDEMEANOR in many states to ask the notary to do something illegal which could include having beneficial interest. If you don’t get your cash up front BEFORE you see the signers, documents or identification, you will be sorry. Get your cash, and THEN see the document. If it is incomplete, that is their problem. No identification, or the names don’t match? Their problem. Signer is in a coma and can not talk — their problem. Some situations will merit waiting time, and you will have no way to enforce your WAITING FEE if you don’t have your travel fee. You will not be in a bargaining situation as they will have the upper hand. If you have your $40 cash travel fee, you can say that you want waiting time when the clock strikes 20 minutes otherwise you are leaving. You have the power that way, and you DON’T have beneficial interest anymore (learn to define this term to be professional).

(36) Contracts with signing companies
Have your own contract that you make companies sign to get a better price with you. Make sure you indicate that if there is any ISSUE with the signing such as a last minute cancellation, no-sign, redraw, or anything unusual, that you get paid quickly. These are exactly the types of situations whre notaries typically get stiffed. So make them pay you faster in these situations so you don’t get stiffed. Even if you charge them a discounted fee. Make them pay within 10 days for these types of signings or charge them a penalty. No contract on your terms, then no discounts for you! Take the upper hand. You are a business person!

(37) Background check all companies who want to hire you
Check them on NR and the 123notary forum — OR ELSE… You will live to regret it if you don’t.

(38) Don’t put the Fedex in the drop box
Fedex is a great company, but they do hire human beings which is their downfall. Not recommended. If a driver changes routes, the new driver might goof (once in a long while) and that drop box in a remote area might not get picked up on time — or at all. Drop your Fedex at a staffed location. The deadlines are later, and it will be in the right hands 100%. Be safe.

(39) Printing on the road
This is a business best practice. If you can print on the road, you will be on time to more appointments, and can print last minute documents in a flash. You will be popular with lenders, plus gain people’s respect for being a prepared trooper. It is very expensive to have a comprehensive mobile office, so be ready to pay through the nose.

(40) Don’t go to houses that smell bad
You can end up in a hospital with a serious bacterial infection. If it is really filthy or smelly, tell them you will do the signing at Starbucks and that you have to leave at 5pm. Risking your lungs is not a best practice.

COMMUNICATION & ETIQUETTE BEST PRACTICES

(41) Don’t talk about the wrong things at signings
Don’t talk about politics or religion. Stick to the weather and traffic, but not in the context of complaining!

(42) Call back etiquette
Announce who you are when you call back. Don’t demand to know who they are until you are politely introduced yourself and explained that you received a missed call from that number. Also, don’t call people back only to tell them that you can’t talk. That is plain stupid and is a worst practice.

(43) Announce who you are when you answer the phone
Do you say, “This is Linda”, when you answer the phone? Or do you say, “Hullo?”. Be professional.

(44) When you confirm the signing, make sure all signers are there
If you do a signing where the wife is not on the loan, she might be on a few of the documents such as the Deed of Trust, Right to Cancel, and one or two others depending on what state you are in and who the lender is. Make sure you know where the wife will be during the signing, otherwise it might be a short signing. Remember, that you don’t know what is on the documents until you get the e-documents which is within minutes of the signing. Plan ahead and confirm the signing.

(45) Make sure your answering machine states your name!
Don’t make people guess if they dialed the correct number.

(46) Don’t ramble, make long pauses, or give opinions
Nobody wants to hear your life story, especially not me or my staff. Nobody wants long answers to quick questions. Nobody likes it when you ask them a question and you pause for 45 seconds to think. Don’t criticize others or give opinions either. Your job is to be a notary. Notaries don’t have opinions — or at least shouldn’t.

(47) Leave enough time between appointments
There is no point being late because you were delayed at your last appointment

(48) Determine how long your signing session will be.
Charge based on time. When you go to a massage therapist, you pay for a 60 minute session. If you go over 60 minutes, the next victim is waiting and they have to stop. Notary signings should be no different. Agree ahead of time how much time they want, and make them commit to that, or don’t work with them. If they want 90 minutes or 120 minutes, that is fine. Have them agree to that up front, and pay accordingly. Your job is not to be delayed endlessly. After all, your next appointment has the right to see your face showing up on time, right?

(49) Don’t have noise in the background when you talk on the phone
If someone calls you and there is noise. Apologize for the noise, and then walk to a quieter location. Don’t let the background noise continue otherwise you are unprofessional in my book.

(50) Don’t park in the driveway.
Your job is not to notarize, don’t put the Fedex in the drop box, and don’t park in the driveway. These are my three golden rules for notaries. Notarize only if it is legal to do so. Bring Fedexes to staffed locations, and park on the street unless there is a good reason why you should call the borrowers and ask if you can park on their driveway.

(51) Know your hours of operation
Never say that you are flexible. Tell people when you are available. I am available from 11am to 2am seven days a week unless I am already engaged, on vacation, or dead. That is a quick and professional answer. Don’t say that it depends. Don’t say that you sign anytime. People who say anytime have such restrictive schedules that they won’t sign any time other than 9-6. Flexible means 9-5:30. These terms mean absolutely nothing. Act like a professional and give people hard numbers when they ask a question — and don’t keep them waiting.

(52) Use your notes section to describe your service thoroughly
Don’t use empty adjectives like thorough and professional. Describe what YOU are like at a signing which is unique to you, so people can get to know you through your notes rather than reading something that looks like you copied it from 3000 other boring notaries who use exactly the same adjectives in exactly the same order. Talk about how fast your laser printer is. Talk about your exact counties or cities that you cover. Give people real information in your notes section, not some empty sounding sales literature that tells them nothing.

MARKETING BEST PRACTICES

(53) Get certified by ALL listing agencies who you advertise with.
If you advertise with ten companies, do all of the certifications. You look like an idiot if you can’t even be a professional at your profession!

(54) Having reviews on your profile from esteemed Title Companies looks great.
It is not a crime to have reviews from “nobodies”, but it is a best practice to have the people who review you be as reputable as possible. Their reputation is your reputation when they write a review about you.

(55) E&O insurance looks professional
E&O insurance looks professional, but is it? It makes it attractive for a company to hire you. E&O doesn’t protect you that much though. You can still get sued if the lender makes a mistake and the borrowers sue all parties involved. This happened before. You will not be covered. It actually encourages lenders to make claims rather than reducing your liability! E&O insurance makes you look good, so get some! But, is it a best practice? Being covered is better than being not covered, so I will call it a “better than nothing practice”. Or, I can call it something that looks like a best practice to the uninformed.

(56) Background screening
If your state doesn’t screen notaries as well as California does with the FBI, DOJ and KGB, then there might be some merit in a background screening.

(57) Advertise on all major directories
Have a well filled out profile, amazing notes, and reviews if possible.

(58) Call all local title companies
Call them up and announce yourself. Call them every month to remind them that you are good, and that you want to work.

(59) Get on the list of all nationwide signing companies.
Fill out the paperwork each signing company requires ahead of time. Make it a best practice to be on as many company’s lists as possible.

(60) Read notary blogs
The more you know, the more impressive and knowledgeable you will be. Know as much as possible to be the best that you can be. 123notary has an interesting Facebook, Linked in and Twitter profile as well. The more you read, the more you know!

(61) Don’t lie about your number of signings
Keep a count. Look them up in your journal. When someone asks you how many signings you have done, don’t ramble about how many years you have been in business. Nobody wants to hear that. Tell them how many you did. 1012 signings, plus there will be another one tonight! Don’t tell them you did two yesterday and three the day before. Nobody has patience to hear you count. Don’t think — KNOW!

(62) Guarantee your work
If you goof, go back and do it again for free. Make this a policy.

(63) Send complete bills regularly.
You need to know exactly what information goes on the invoices you send out. Name of borrower, loan number, address, date of signing, name of lender, etc. Bill regularly and keep good records, including the CHECK # of incoming checks. Otherwise you won’t get paid.

Tweets:
(1) Is it legal to notarize a hand-written document? What if there are cross outs?
(2) Blanks in documents? Put a line through it buddy!
(3) It is illegal to use your seal on a blank piece of paper. Yet jails usually require this! (cross it out)
(4) Notary topics: Hand-written docs, Blanks in docs, seal over wording, loose certificates, overseas docs.
(5) Don’t go to houses that smell bad #mobilenotary
(6) Notary contracts, fees at the door, background screening signing co’s, call Title if not paid on time.

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You might also like:

Notary Public 101 – a free notary course
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19493

The 30 Point Courses – a free loan signing course
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=14233

Notary Marketing 102 – a free marketing course for Notaries
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19774

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September 25, 2018

Penalties for Notary misconduct, fraud, and failure of duty

Filed under: Notary Mistakes — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:23 am

Notaries by and large do not willfully engage in any type of illegal activity or illegal notarizations. The normal types of crimes Notaries commit are due to complete ignorance of Notary procedure, Oaths, and certificates. The only serious and purposeful crime I have ever heard of a Notary associated with us committing was one that assisted someone in fraud concerning real property — and the Notary ended up in jail. Please keep in mind that Notary law is different in every state and changes all the time as well. Penalties and fines for Notary misconduct are different in each state, California being the most stringent.

Negligent vs. Willful Misconduct

In California, the penalties are much more severe for Notaries who have engaged in willful misconduct rather than just making a careless mistake or omission.

Failure to keep your seal & journal under lock and key.
In California this is very serious and is a crime. You can keep your Notary equipment in a bag with a small lock that locks the zippers together. If you are the only one with access to your car, then the trunk of your car could work as well.

Unauthorized Practice of Law
The definition of UPL differs from state to state. However, offering opinions on legal matters or offering to draft legal documents might constitute UPL. For a professional opinion — ask an Attorney!

Asking a notary to do an improper notarization.
This is a misdemeanor in California. If it involves real property, then it is much more serious. Clients might ask you to notarize their signature using a different name variation that is not documented on their identification, or put a false date. This is illegal. They would guilty for asking you to do this, and you would be guilty if you give in to their pressure. If you have driven forty minutes to a signing job, in a sense you have a beneficial interest in notarizing their document unless you have gotten your travel fee up front when you walk in the door. So, to be prudent and avoid this issue, you MUST get your travel fee BEFORE you see the document, or are informed who the signers are, or see their ID, because a conflict of interest can easily happen. If someone asks you to do something illegal, you can threaten to report them to the Secretary of State’s office. This is a serious crime and you should treat it as such.

Issuing a false certificate
A notary who signs and seals false certificates, and this could include backdated certificates would be guilty of a misdemeanor. A false Acknowledgment certificate constitutes FORGERY. Additionally, the notary public could have their commission revoked if found guilty of this crime, with an additional fine of $1500 per incident in California (fines change over time so look this up in the statues).

Failure to Identify a Credible Witness
A fine of $10,000 per incident could occur if a notary fails to check a credible witness’s identification documents and see that they have acceptable identification.

Failure to get a thumbprint!!!
This is my favorite. Thumbprints are critical for identifying a signer if fraud is suspected. Powers of Attorney and Deeds require a journal thumbprint in California. A fine of up to $2500 per incident would be the penalty. Most other states do not require thumbprints, and Texas and Florida actually recommend against thumbprinting as those states do not trust Notaries with biometric data which is the only foolproof way to identify a signer. How ironic!

Failure to administer an Oath
A fine of $750 per incident could be incurred, not to mention revocation, or suspension of a notary commission, or refusal to grant a commission. I heard that some Notaries in Oklahoma had to go to court for a loan document signing in question. The Judge found out that the Notaries had not administered Oaths on the Affidavits in the loan package. I heard that the Judge overturned the loan and had the Notaries commissions permanently revoked by their state.

Felony Convictions
If you have a felony conviction or have been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty or moral turpitude, you will most likely not be allowed to get a notary commission in the first place. If you already had a notary commission, it would be suspended or revoked the minute your state’s ntoary division finds out about it!

Professional Misconduct
This refers to dishonesty in your professional activities. The penalty would once again be suspension, revocation, or refusal to grant a notary commission.

Failure of Duty
This means that you refuse to serve a member of the public who has a legitimate request for a notarization. However, if the signer doesn’t have proper identification, or doesn’t have a properly filled out document, or seems very questionable, you have the right to refuse service to such a client. The penalty would be refusal to grant a notary commission, suspension, or revocation of a notary commission. Additionally a fine of $750 could be imposed on the California notary public.

Falsely Acting as a Notary
This is a misdemeanor. Borrowing someone’s Notary seal and doing Notary work is a serious crime. If you are a Notary, keep your seal and journal locked up.

Making false statements to a notary
Anyone who induces a notary to make an improper notarization with regards to real property can be found guilty of a FELONY. This is the most serious type of fraud possible in the notary profession.

False or misleading notary advertising
Making false statements in notary advertising is illegal, and the penalty for a California Notary is $1500 per incident. Additionally, such a notary’s commission could be suspended, revoked, terminated, or there could be a refusal to issue a commission. Claiming to be an immigration expert, or be able to give legal advice could be a serious example of false advertising and perhaps unauthorized practice of law.

Selling personal information
It is illegal for the notary sells or misuses personal information of those he/she has notarized. Remember to keep your journals locked up, so that nobody can have access to that information. When making copies of journal entries, make sure that the neighboring journal entries are covered, so that their information is not shared with the public. Once again, your application could be denied, or your commission could be revoked or suspended for this type of crime.

Misstatements on a notary application (Application misstatement)
Your notary commission could be suspended, revoked, or refused if you are guilty of this misconduct

Here are some other crimes… I will just list them here, but may or may not describe the penalties.

Failure to deliver a journal to the county clerk at the end of your commission. – misdemeanor
Failure to safeguard seal and journal – revoke/suspend/refuse
Failure to report a lost or damaged seal – $1500 fine
Nonpayment of judgement / Refusal to pay child support – refusal to issue a commission
Failure to keep a journal – such notaries will be prosecuted

There are a few others laws that I am not going to mention, but these were the interesting ones…

You might also like:

A Notary loses $4000 in legal fees because someone changed a name on a certificate

Notary loses $4000 in legal fees because fraud adds name to Acknowledgment certificate.

All you need to know about notary work

All you need to know about notary work

How to complain about a notary public

How to complain about a notary public

Notary Fines and Penalties

Notary Fines & Notary Penalties (gulp)

Fraud and Forgery in the Notary Profession

Fraud & Forgery related to the notary profession

Notary Public General Information

Notary Public Information

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December 13, 2011

Can a notary help draft documents?

Can a notary public help drafting documents?
 
Notaries are discouraged from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The definition of unauthorized practice of law differs from state to state.  However, as a general rule, assisting someone in drafting a document that will be used in court, or submitted to a judge, or used for any legal purpose would be unauthorized practice of law, or giving legal advice. A Florida notary should not draft any type of document for any client, whether the document is of a legal nature or not because rules are tighter there.  New York notaries should be on guard too as standards for unauthorized practice of law are enforced more stringently there. 
 
But, my client needs my help drafting this document
You need to tell the client that it is up to them and their attorney to draft their document, or to fill out their power of attorney form.  There are standardized power of attorney forms that are sold in office supply stores.  Notaries should not notarize a document with blanks in it, however, they should also not assist in filling in those blanks or even putting lines through the blanks.
 
What if I arrive at a job and the document hasn’t been written yet?
If you are a MOBILE NOTARY and you travel to homes, businesses, hospitals, etc., it is up to you to double check with your clients to make sure they have their documents all filled out and ready. You should make sure their identification is ready too.  Most states require identification not only for Acknowledgments, but also for Jurats too!  Don’t get in your car until the documents and identification documents are all in order. 
 
Can a notary witness a signature on draft documents?
A notary can witness a signature on any document if you like.  However, if you have a notary notarize a document which is going to have a new draft printed out after the fact, the NEW version of the document would have to be notarized all over again if it is to be notarized.  You can not change wording or pages in a document which has already been notarized.

You might also like:

Signing agent best practices
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=4315

Protecting yourself with a contract
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=2593

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December 1, 2011

Can a Georgia notary notarize a Florida property document?

Can a Georgia notary notarize a Florida property document?

Loan signings are common across the United States.  Any notary in any state can notarize almost any document within the confines of their state, but the document can be from out of state, or out of the country.  Notaries should refrain from notarizing copies of vital records, and Wills are generally avoided in many states as well.  Just as long as a Georgia Notary has their two feet in Georgia, it is okay to notarize a Florida document, or a loan signing for a property in Florida. 
 
Non-attorney Georgia Notaries are prohibited from doing loan signings for properties in Georgia, but, I don’t know any restriction for them as far as notarizing loan documents (packages that generally include Deeds of Trust, Mortgages, Grant Deeds, Quit Claim Deeds, Notes, Notice of Right to Cancel, etc.) that are from Florida, or some other state.
 
A Florida notary can also notarize documents that are to be recorded out of state.
 
One critical piece of information is that the county recorder in the state that a document is going to be recorded — have standards.  They might insist on their state’s notary wording to be on the notary certificate.  They can reject a document if the notary wording is not up to their standards, or if there is a smudgy seal, etc.  That is the job of the person who prepares the documents, and not the responsibility of the notary. A Georgia notary public, or any notary for that matter is allowed to make legal decisions for their clients which includes what type of wording to use, document drafting, or choosing the type of notarization to do, i.e. acknowledgment, jurat, protest, etc.

You might also like:

Letter to Florida Notary Division
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19896

Unauthorized practice of law in the notary profession
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=21317

13 ways to get sued as a notary
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19614

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November 19, 2011

How do I fill out a Notary Journal Entry?

How do I fill out a journal entry?
 
Please keep in mind that rules and standards for notary procedures can vary from state to state across the United States.  As a general rule, there are certain areas of confusion that we want to make it a point to clarify.
 
Q. Do I need to have a separate journal entry for each signature that I notarize
A. Yes!  Imagine that you are notarizing signatures on a set of loan documents.  Let’s say that there are four documents to be notarized and both husband and wife need to sign each one — you have eight notarized signatures and eight journal entries. 
One journal entry per notarized signature.
 
Q. Does each journal entry need to be signed?
A. Yes!  The individual whose signature you are notarizing needs to sign the corresponding journal entry.
 
Q.  What about thumbprints? Do I need to take a thumbprint?
A.  Sometimes!  For Deeds and Power of Attorney documents in California, you must take a thumbprint.  For other states, there are different standards, but it is always better to have a journal thumbprint just so you can be 100% sure of the signers identity.  ID’s can be forged, but thumbprints of a live person in front of you can not be forged!
 
Q.  What goes in a notary journal entry?
Date &Time,
Type of notarization (i.e. acknowledgment, jurat, oath, affirmation, protest, etc.)
Name of the document being notarized (i.e. affidavit, deed of trust, occupancy affidavit, etc.)
Document date (documents don’t always have a document date, but if you have 20 documents called “affidavit”, you need to distinguish them somehow and a date might help)
Name and address of signer
Identification of signer
Additional notes
Signature of the signer
Thumbprint of the signer (optional in many states)
 
Q.  What if I’m doing a signing that starts at 11:55pm and ends at 12:05am the next day, what date do I use?
A.  You can use either day, but I would date the notary act at the exact time that the signer signs your journal since that is a definitive POINT in time, rather than a range of time.  Some notary acts allow the signer to sign the document BEFORE they see the notary making the document signing a poor choice for a definitive point in time to date the transaction.
 
Q.  Can I make recommendations for what type of notarizations the signers should get since I know more than them?
A.  No! That is considered giving legal advice  (unauthorized practice of law) in many states. Let them choose on their own, although you can tell them what is “normal” as well as explaining the characteristics of each type of notary act in your state.
 
Q. What if many documents I am notarizing all have the same name?
A. It is good to distinguish documents by other characteristics. If you have 20 Grant Deeds to be notarized by the same signer on the same day, you can note the property addresses indicated on the Grant Deed to distinguish which document you were really notarizing. Otherwise, if you ever go to court, you will not be able to tell the judge if you notarized a particular Grant Deed for that particular signer. Imagine what would happen if he did a 21st Grant Deed after you left and forged your seal on the certificate section and claimed that you notarized it.  If your journal doesn’t describe EXACTLY which documents were notarized, you can get duped by a sophisticated fraud!
 
Q.  Name and address of signer, do I have to write this for each entry?
A.  You can write the name and address of a particular signer, and then draw an arrow down for all documents with that person’s signature being notarized. Each document gets it’s own journal entry per signer.  If you have Joe signing four documents and Sally signing four documents, make sure the journal entries for Joe are all sequential so that they will be consecutive and all in the same place.  Then below those entries you can write Sally’s name and address and a separate entry for all of her documents that she is signing.  Example: Lets say your journal page has eight entries.  Entry 1, 2, 3, and 4 would be for Joe. Joes name and address would be on the first entry along with a particular document name and other information.  For entry 2, 3, and 4, you would see different document names, and an arrow indicating that the signer was still Joe and that his information was the same.  Journal entries 5, 6, 7, 8 would be for Sally and her information would go on entry 5 along with a particular document’s name, and then 6, 7, 8 would have document names and an arrow in the name/address field to indicate that it is still Sally who is the signer.  Make sure Joe signs all four of his entries, and that Sally signs for all four of her entries, otherwise you get in trouble if audited.
 
Q.  How do I identify a signer?
A. Rules are different from state to state.  Some states allow a notary to personally know a signer to constitute being positively identified.  Others allow credible witnesses.  All states allow a signer to be identified through the use of current identity documents such as drivers licenses, passports, state identification cards, etc.  The documents (cards) must have a photo, signature, physical description, name, address, expiration date, and serial number to be acceptable.  Some states allow a card to be used for a grace period after it expires.  If your state allows the card to be used five years after it’s issue date, then you need to be able to read the code on the card to figure out when it was issued.
 
Q. Additional notes — what is that for?
A.  If you use credible witnesses, you document their signatures and other information in the additional notes section.  If you want to document unusual situations, or unusual characteristics of the signers, that is the place to put it.  If you are ever called to court, the information in your journal is the ONLY way you will remember the signing in many cases, especially if you do four signings per day over a course of 12 years.  Example: “The male signer Joe looked like a walrus.Sally had a squeeky voice and seemed nervous.”
 
Q.  Signature area – who signs in the signature area?
A.  The signer of a particular document signs in the signature area (not the notary).  Only one signature per journal entry.  If two people are signing the same document, just create a new journal entry for the second signer with the same document name.  This is not rocket science!
 
Q.  Thumbprint area – do I need to have a thumbprint?
A.  Please educate you on your state law. Some states require thumbprints for particular documents and others don’t.  It is better to have a thumbprint just in case you are called into court.  Your court case might be faster (or not happen at all) if you have proof of the identity of the signer such as a thumbprint.

You might also like:

Index of posts about journals
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=20272

Rude Notaries!

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November 13, 2011

Can a notary witness a will or notarize one?

Can a notary act as a witness to a will — Can a notary notarize a will?
 
This is a very difficult topic to write about because notary law differs from state to state, and notary laws change over time as well in particular states.  As a general rule, a notary public is discouraged from notarizing signatures on any will.  If you are a New York Notary Public, you should probably avoid notarizing signatures on Wills under any circumstance since standards for what constitutes unauthorized practice of law in New York State for a New York Notary Public are more stringent than many other states.  I heard that notarizing a Will as a New York Notary might be considered practicing law. However, in many states, a notary can notarize signatures on a will — even though it would be meaningless.  Utah notaries are encouraged to notarize signatures on Wills if asked to since it is illegal to turn down any lawful request for a notarization. But, what about acting as a witness?
 
A notary can act as a witness, but in their capacity as an individual.
Unless your state prohibits a notary from being a witness (  have never heard of such a restriction, but it could exist), a notary can be a witness.  A Delaware Notary Public can act as a witness as an official Delaware notary act and charge a prescribed maximum notary fee.  However, in other states, a notary public may act as a witness, but in their capacity as an individual — or at least it would not be done as an official notary act recognized by their state.  On the other hand, the notary acting as a witness can also indicate that they are a commissioned notary in their state which adds credibility.  Notaries are screened before being commissioned in their respective state which makes them perhaps more credible than an average citizen (you would think).
 
Unauthorized practice of law — what does this mean?
I am not an attorney, and can not give any meaningful tutorials on what unauthorized practice of law constitutes.  As a non-attorney notary, you should avoid giving any type of advice about what type of notarization to get, what type of legal paperwork to get, or how to fill it out.  You should not draft legal documents in any state (documents to be used in court or submitted to a judge or used in conjunction with any court case).  You might be able to assist in drafting non-legal documents in many states that are to be notarized such as simple affidavits, etc.  A Florida notary public is strongly advised against helping drafting any type of documents since laws in their state are more strict about what type of advice a notary may give.  In short, each state has a different idea of what “UPL” means.  To play it safe, please read up on what your state notary laws are, and don’t draft legal documents, and don’t give advice on legal matters.
 
How many witnesses do you need for a Will?
It is standard in California, New York, Ohio, Arizona,  and  most other states for a Will to require two witness signatures. I read on findlaw.com that Vermont requires three witnesses to sign a Will.  Witnesses must be 18 years of age or older in any state.  A notary can be one of those witnesses.
 
How do you document witnesses?
It is not a crime for a notary public to notarize the signatures of witnesses on a will, although it is improper to notarize the signature of the principal. It is always helpful for the witnesses to print their name, give their address and a phone number as documentation. You never know when they might need to be contacted.  By having witnesses’ signatures notarized, the notary has a record of the identification of the witnesses, and a prudent notary would also record their adress and maybe even their contact information.
 
What is it like to act as a witness to a will?
I have done this many times.  It is a very boring, but traditional formal proceeding. It is common to have an attorney present, a few neighbors or friends, and perhaps even a bottle of wine (for after the signing).  Everyone commonly gathers around the dining room table. Once everyone is there, then the attorney might give a quick speech, and then the principal signer signs, and then the witnesses sign in their appointed places.  Afterwards, there is lots of chatting generally. Or, you might meet in the conference room of a law office and do it there (less fun).  Many people consider a notary to be a better quality witness since they deal with signing documents as a profession and they take signatures more seriously, so I got many gigs as a witness.  I took it very seriously and watched very intently every time a signer signed!
 
You might also like:
 
Information about Credible Witnesses
 
Can a notary be a witness?
 
New York Notary search results

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January 29, 2011

Attorney States in the Notary Profession

Filed under: Technical & Legal — Tags: — admin @ 11:57 am

What is an Attorney State? Is that a state where everyone who resides there is an Attorney? What would they do all day long besides wake up, have breakfast and sue everyone? Or does it mean for an Attorney to state a fact about something? Neither.

An Attorney State is a state in the USA where only Attorneys are supposed to be able to do loan signings. Anyone else who facilitates a loan signing could be convicted of the unauthorized practice of law — or so I’ve heard. However, in these states which currently are Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Georgia (possibly a few others too) we do have Notaries who do loan signings for a living. They often do signings for out of state properties and think that they can get away with it.

One Attorney in Georgia that I talked to told me that if your two feet are on the ground on Georgia soil (or perhaps a hardwood floor) that you cannot conduct loan signings unless you are an Attorney — regardless of where the property is. Hmmm. Looks like people are breaking the law.

One Notary listed on our site got fined $40,000 over ten years ago or almost got fined that amount. They had to hire an Attorney to defend them in court. What an ordeal. And this was for unauthorized practice of law because they were doing loan signings.

If in doubt, consult an Attorney to see what your rights are as a notary to do loan signing in your state and ask what constitutes UPL as the definitions are frequently very arbitrary and convoluted.

You might also like:

UPL — Unauthorized practice of law in the notary profession
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=21317

Penalties for Notary misconduct, fraud and failure of duty
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=21315

13 ways to get sued as a Notary
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19614

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November 29, 2010

Just Say No Article #2

Assisting with Immigration issues
If you are not an immigration expert, don’t answer immigration questions and don’t advertise yourself as an immigration expert. However, notaries are allowed to notarize many types of immigration documents. Just don’t give advice.

Assisting with legal advice
If asked for legal advice, if you are not an attorney, please refrain from giving legal advice as it might constitute unauthorized practice of law. Drafting legal documents, i.e. documents to be used in court or submitted to a judge or attorney could constitute legal advice or service (unauthorized practice of law) in many states. Don’t even offer to recommened particular notary procedures for their document, as that also could constitute unauthorized practice of law.

Backdating
Putting a date on a document’s notary certificate section that is previous to the current date is considered backdating and is illegal. Don’t backdate. Many signing companies will ask you to backdate when they are in a pinch and will lose their lock on the borrower’s loan. That is their problem, not yours. If you backdate you could lose your commission if you get caught. It is a misdemeanor in many states to ask a notary to commit fraud, so you can report a company that asks you or coerces you into backdating.

Don’t make notarial recommendations
Customers always ask what type of notarization they should get. You are not allowed to tell them in many states. You can describe the attributes of the various types of notarizations and ask what the document custodian would like too. Just don’t make recommendations.

Letting your boss review your journal
Your boss can not inspect your journal on their own. However, if you are present, then its okay if your boss inspects the journal. The notary should not let the public see journal entries unrelated to their specific business. Its best to make a copy of the journal entry that blocks out other entries to protect the privacy of the others who you notarized. If not all of the notarizations are related to your boss, it would be better if you make a copy of the journal entry in question rather than letting the boss look at the whole journal while you are there.

Blanks?
Don’t notarize a document with blanks in it. The blanks must somehow be filled in or crossed out. Otherwise you must decline from notarizing that document.

Lock up your seal and journal
Not all states require a seal and journal, but these instruments are the exclusive property of the notary and must be kept under lock and key. Don’t let others use them or you can get in big trouble, and so can the person who used them.

Don’t notarize parts of documents
If you are handed page three of a long document, you can not notarize it as a separate entity. Documents must be in their complete form to be notarized. Don’t only notarize the last page of a document — the page that contains the certificate wording either.

Failure to emboss?
Its not required by law to emboss pages, but if you choose to emboss every page of every document you notarized, it becomes difficult to substitute pages of documents without getting caught. Embossers leave a raised seal that can not be photocopied, so you will be detering a lot of funny business using an embosser.

You might also like:

Notaries that fail and what they did wrong!

Everything you need to know about journals

13 ways to get sued as a notary
http://blog.123notary.com/?p=19614

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