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September 20, 2016

Their Signature

Their Signature

Let’s use, as a working definition of Their Signature; “somebody’s name written by him or her in a characteristic way”. Long ago, about a decade, I was often asked to provide “legible” signatures that matched the name signing. I tried that a few times, mostly with dismal failure. More often than not, the signature was totally illegible – more like artwork than written script handwriting.

Now let’s go back a lot further in the past, about two thousand years. Commercial transactions were common then as they are now. Most did not read or write, they made their mark. It was the seal of the Notary, who knew the affiant that validated the “mark”. Nothing has really changed. It is still the Notary who is supporting the validity of the signature.

They can sign many ways, with a pen, with a brush (artsy?), using their hands, feet, knees or mouth to hold the instrument of signing. Keep in mind the Americans with Disabilities Act. We must make reasonable accommodation to all who qualify for our seal. The signature does not have to be the same as, or even similar to the one on their ie: driver license. A lost limb or even both arms does not preclude notarization. Pen held in mouth is fine, the signature will be vastly different – but that really does not matter. Many elderly people have hands that shake, but their minds remain crystal clear.

Their “signature”, however written is the second aspect of accepting the Notary Oath. The first part is communicating a “yes” to the Oath; the signature is the written agreement. As mentioned – often the signature does not match the ID. Of course the picture must. There is one signature that (at least in NY State) must match – and that one is mine. My signature is recorded with the county clerk and for it to be authenticated; my signature on the document must be the same as my officially recorded one. Thus my signature cannot change.

To me what really counts is their printed name somewhere to indicate exactly who is being notarized. If it’s in my “loose ack” – I get to print the name. Sometimes it’s not that clear on the document, that is when I ask them to print their name under their signature. Notaries must take care to delimit their notarization to those actually given the oath and ID checked. When there are “other” places for signature, I often add “by affiant name” to the “sworn to and subscribed”.

Signatures vary greatly. I have seen perfectly formed cursive handwriting, squiggles and minor works of art with flourishes. Many bear no relation whatsoever to the name. Sometimes the same thing is on the ID, sometimes not. It’s my job to determine who they are, not to critique how they write their name. It would be so much more “absolute” if a DNA sample were to be added. Some think a thumbprint would be best; but not everyone has a thumb.

So, I am not a handwriting nanny. When the instructions mandate “clearly written” I tell the affiant what they “require” – and accept what they do. Usually I ask for their routine, standard signature “the way you would sign a check”. In my experience people object to being told “how to sign”. The signature, stamp and seal of the Notary makes whatever it is “Kosher”.

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February 24, 2015

Why Notarize?

Why Notarize?
There is no denying that notarization can be inconvenient. Of course you can easily search by zip code to find a nearby mobile notary on that will go to you. But, even if the process is very convenient; the question remains why bother?

Although some “shorty” notary sections contain only “sworn to before me”; one that meets the complete guidelines of the various states contains much more information. Some contracts or documents may be quite legal in one state but prohibited in a different state. A proper notarization contains a Venue that states where the notarization took place. The venue always represents where the oath was given and notary signature was affixed. It has nothing to do with the content of the document; and, at times, may not reflect where you signed the document.

Almost all notary sections contain the date the document was notarized. Consider a hand written IOU that says the payment is due in 90 days, but does not mention the start date. The notary section’s date is always the date that the notary signed. Attorneys may argue many details, but the notarization date is the date that the parties were given the oath. Lacking any other date, the notarization date would usually be considered the effective date of the document.

Squiggle, squiggle; handwriting is often unreadable. A great notary section will mention by name the person(s) who were notarized, generally in clearly printed block letters. Care must be taken by the notary, when there are several affiants; to mention only those that were given the oath.

Speaking of oath, many do not realize that a sworn statement before a notary carries exactly the same legal standing as testimony in a court of law. The Bailiff “swears in” the witness, exactly the same as the notary oath. False statements on notarized documents are equivalent to lies in the witness stand – the crime of perjury. Take notarized documents seriously!

Back to Why have a signature notarized. In addition to recording in a uniform format the above information; the notary determines the identity of the affiant. Not to an absolute certainty, but by inspecting “government issued photo ID”. A good forgery can fool anyone who is not an expert at examining the specific ID. However, notaries inspect IDs closely, and if there is any evidence of tampering – they will reject the ID. It is the chief duty of the notary to inspect and approve the ID presented and record that acceptance by placing a notary seal and signature on the document.

The “humble notary” is actually a sworn officer (we take an oath to follow the notary laws) of the (in New York) Department of State. As a commissioned officer, we have the legal right, and often the legal obligation, to confirm the identity of the person signing the document. Being impartial, our stamp and signature are accepted as substantiation that the named person did indeed sign.

Information is gathered and recorded, IDs are checked and the notary signs and stamps. Notarization does not make a document valid, legal, binding, or truthful. Those aspects of the document are generally issues for litigation. A notarized false statement remains exactly that, the notarization does not have any relationship to the contents of the document. It does allow the document to be entered in evidence in a court. It makes forgery more difficult, but not impossible. Though not always required, it’s unlikely an unnecessary notarization will void a document.


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April 2, 2013

April Phoninar: Selected Notary Topics

Here are some more topics that notaries need to learn about. We will be discussing some of these topics in phone calls with notaries this month.


How do you give your mandatory Oath in a Jurat?

If you are executing a Jurat, you need to administer an Oath by law. The signer needs to sign in front of you for this act as well. You need to have them raise their right hand and swear under oath.

Do you solemnly swear that the content of this document is true, correct and complete to the best of your knowledge?

That is my choice of Oath wording, what is yours? Remember, they are not only swearing to tell the truth, but they are swearing that some content in some document is true as well!


How do you keep a record of an Oath?

Have you ever administered an Oath? Yes, just an Oath. No!!! Not a Jurat with an Oath, just an Oath. The Secretary of State doesn’t tell us how to record that in our journal. But, I like to keep records. In an Oath there is nothing to sign. But, I made the Affiant (Oath taker) sign my Journal anyway just to be thorough. I indicated in my journal that he was taking an Oath, and indicated the topic and content matter of the Oath.


Which notary act doesn’t require personal appearance?

Notaries hit the roof when I bring this one up. But, a Proof of Execution doesn’t require the principal to personally appear. A subscribing witness appears before the notary with a document signed by the signer. Hmmm. Dubious, but legal in many states.


Which documents are “The Legals”?

Be careful. This is a loan signing question that signing companies will ask you to test if you know anything. You better know this. The following are the legals.

Deed of Trust
The Right to Cancel
Truth in Lending
HUD-1 Settlement Statement

Q. Which non-recorded document in the legals DOESN’T ever mention the prepayment penalty?

A. The Right to Cancel


How to avoid lawsuits?

A notary got sued because they were a signer in a loan where the lender allegedly cheated the borrower. The borrower got mad and sued everyone in sight. The notary’s E&O insurance wouldn’t even help because the notary didn’t make a notary mistake. Actually, the notary didn’t make any mistake at all. An attorney friend of the notary offered to represent them for $30,000. With friends like this — who needs enemies. This notary was left upstream without a paddle.

Another notary in the exact same situatition was almost sued, but the prosecutor backed off because the notary made the borrower sign a particular document before commencing the signing.

Q. What was that document?

A. A hold harmless agreement

This document should be worded by an Attorney and can save your life. It basically says that the borrower will not hold the notary liable for any damages if there are any problems with the loan. Wow!


A notary avoids going to court

Once upon a time there was a notary who I have known my entire life (me). This notary did a notarization for an elderly signer who was thought to be defrauded by another party who got them to sign a document. The notary (me) got a thumbprint as it was his practice to do so. Just in case… The notary was investigated with a phone call from a P.I. The notary explained that they had a thumbprint for this particular notarization. The investigation stopped in its tracks and the notary didn’t have to go to court. If the notary had not taken the three seconds to get a thumbprint, he might have lost a MONTH in court without pay. Hmmm. Take a thumbprint — and get a hold harmless agreement.



When notaries define the APR or explain it, some parts of the explanation are more important than others and should come first. There are different ways of explaning the APR. Below are a few. Your definition should start with something similar to the primary information and NOT with the supplementary, otherwise you are not being thorough or helpful.


(1) The APR includes the interest and some of the fees

(2) The APR includes interest and prepaid closing costs

(3) The APR is usually higher than the Rate because it includes not only interest, but fees

(4) The APR includes interest, PMI, loan origination fees, points, and other closing costs.

(5) The APR is the ratio between the payments and the amount financed after certain closing costs have been dedicted and is expressed as a compounded annual rate.


(1) The APR reflects the costs of the loan

(2) The APR is a figure that the Federal Government requires lenders to disclose on the TIL

(3) The APR is a figure used to compare the costs of loans, or to compare loans

Incorrect or incomplete

(1) The APR includes the costs of the loan (incomplete)

(2) The APR IS the cost of the loan (wrong — it reflects the cost)

(3) The APR IS the fees (nonsense)

(4) The APR is always higher than the Rate (wrong)

(5) The APR consists of closing costs, PMI, points, and loan origination fees (what about the interest?)

(6) The APR is the Annual Percentage Rate and is the same as the Rate except that it is computed Annually (wrong, there is much more to it than the fact that it is Annual or compounded — the fact that fees are deducted before computing this rate is the key feature and main reason it is usually much higher than the rate)

Most notaries do not rehearse their definition of the APR, so whenever I ask them, they always behave as if I caught them off guard. The problem is that they never studied their terms, and never rehearsed. How do you think a concert pianist would sound if they never practiced? They would never be asked to play a concert — just like a good Title company will never ask you to sign a loan for them if YOU never practice!


How can you get your notary commission suspended or revoked?

Don’t lend your seal to your buddy in a pinch

Don’t send loose certificates in the mail

Don’t prestamp your certificates

Don’t forget to administer Oaths

Don’t notarize someone by a name that is different than what is on their identification

Don’t Notarize someone who didn’t personally appear before you

Don’t Use expired identification unless your state bases the acceptability of the ID on a number of years after the issue date


Starbucks — a signing gone wrong

A lady goes to a signing at Starbucks and brings her three year old who spills a mocha latte over the Deed of Trust.

Q. What did the lady do wrong, and how do you rectify the situation?

A. The lady should NOT have brought her child to a signing. The mocha should sit on a chair, and NOT on the table because mochas have a habit of spilling on Deeds. Just visit the borrower’s copies and get a new Deed of Trust and everything will be okay.

Many notaries love doing signings at Starbucks. I do too. I love the atmosphere, the coffee, and the 1940’s music. My only recommendations are to keep drinks off the table, and to try the dark chocolate graham crackers — they are stupendous!

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September 18, 2012

Notary Stories From the Edge

Rarely, but sometimes, a notary signing agent will meet people who try to give him or her an unacceptable ID…or people who claim they really do not need an ID at all– because they do not want to sign! An ID must be government-issued; unacceptable forms of ID are fishing licenses, YMCA cards, or medical marijuana cards. Gun permits are government issued, and in some states are the most popular form of ID. You may have read elsewhere here about the mistress who actually had a fake ID made up so she could pass as the man’s wife and they could take all the money out of the home (!). Being sure people are who they say they are can be a real challenge, it seems.

The most unusual situation I’ve heard about is the time that, when asked for his ID, a borrower bragged–foolishly–to an Ohio notary signing agent that his identical twin had once gotten a driver’s license for him! He went to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, posed as his brother, and obtained the license. Our Ohio notary signing agent reports, “This twin I was doing a signing for thought this ‘joke’ was quite funny, and then proceeded to tell me another notary had laughed about it, too…and had presumably accepted his ID without question…but,” says our cautious Ohio notary, “I then made this borrower take an oath that the ID he presented to me was in fact his driver’s license obtained by him–ditto his passport! Otherwise, it would not only be an unacceptable ID; it would be mortgage fraud! I also notified the mortgage company, and they agreed I had done the correct thing by asking the man to take an oath. Of course, this all made a dandy entry in the ‘unusual circumstances’ section of notes in my notary journal, where I recorded the details and the fact I had him sign an oath. I also sent an original page entitled ‘closing notes’ and included it in the package with the documents. I get a lot of work referred to me from this company now because they were impressed by my way of thinking and handling this guy.”

“Sometimes,” says another an Ohio notary signing agent, “I have come across a non-borrowing spouse who does not want to sign. These are often angry people who do not want the spouse to get the loan. In the presence of an Ohio notary, the non-borrowing spouse is usually required to sign the deed of trust; the truth in lending agreement;the itemization of the total amount financed;a document correction statement; an agreement about fees due; and the right to cancel. There may also be affidavits…so it’s always best to check with the title company. In any case, there have been many arguments between spouses where one does not see why he/ she has to sign, or one spouse does not want the non-borrowing spouse to sign and seems ready to dissolve the marriage!

One wife ended up walking out on her husband because he found out how much money she had spent–and why she was refinancing. The moment of truth! One husband punched a hole in the wall when he found out how much his wife had spent. Scary! It is always necessary to write it down in notes in your notary journal–and call the loan officer or a legal adviser–when there are any issues that prevent the signing from happening.”

Another Ohio notary told us, “One time when I asked for copies of a signer’s ID, she got nasty. She was the non-borrowing spouse, and she hated her husband; I can’t print here the awful things she was saying about him. It made me feel really uncomfortable. She also made sure there was no room to sign at the table, and then she put a huge glass of Coke on the table–right next to the documents. I was expecting her to knock it over any minute. When I asked her to be careful, she went to the refrigerator and added even MORE Coke to the glass until it was filled to the very brim. She took a sip– then refused to sign at all and started cursing. Then, I called the loan officer. After he got her all calmed down, we signed everything– but I had to go back the next day because an attachment was missing! The minute I drove into the driveway, she started cursing at me that I was wasting her time: “Are you STUPID?” was her greeting. As an Ohio notary, what did I learn from all this? Always check out the people really well before you take a job. If they seem at all irritable or peculiar, figure out if you really need this particular job.”

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June 22, 2012

Notary Public Oath of Office Information

Notary Public Oath of Office Information 

Each state has a different procedure for becoming a notary.  But, it is common for states to require a newly commissioned notary public to purchase a bond and file it with the county recorder. When the notary comes to the recorder’s office to file their bond, it is also common for them to have to take an Oath of Office, and file their oath at the county recorder’s office as well.  California requires notaries to file two completed copies of their oath with the county recorder. Remember not to sign the Oath documentation until the clerk at the county clerk tells you to!
The Oath of Office
Generally, the Oath will be a piece of paper with a quick statement that you swear to. You will need to raise your right hand and swear or affirm under oath that you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and you will have to agree to the terms in the document.  You need to sign in the presence of the clerk, and then the clerk will affix their stamp to the Oath paperwork.
Verbiage for the Notary Oath of Office
Here is some sample wording from Michigan’s Department of State:
Do you solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, and that you will discharge the duties of the office of Notary Public in and for said County to the best of your ability?

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April 4, 2012

How much should a notary charge for swearing in a…

How much should a notary charge for swearing in a … 

Please keep in mind that notary rules, and notary prices vary from state to state.  Also, notaries engage in various types of notary acts involving Acknowledgments, Jurats (which include Oaths), Oaths, Affirmations, Protests, and more depending on what state is in question.
How much should a notary charge for swearing in a witness?
Notaries can swear in witnesses, and so can a judge, as well as other types of state appointed officers such as a justice of the peace, etc.  When you are swearing someone in, you are giving them an Oath.  You might have the affiant raise their right hand and ask them, “Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”.  They might say, “Yes”, or “I do”.  
An Arizona Notary can charge $2 for administering an Oath
A California Notary can charge $10 for administering an Oath.
A Florida Notary Public can charge $10 for administering an Oath
An Illinois Notary may charge $1 for administering an Oath
A Maryland Notary may charge $2 for administering an Oath
A Michigan Notary can charge $10.00 for administering an Oath
A Notary in New York can only charge $2 for administering an Oath
A Notary in New Jersey can charge $2.50 for administering an Oath
An Ohio Notary can charge $1 for administering an Oath
A Pennsylvania Notary can charge $5 for administering an Oath
A Texas Notary can charge $6 for administering an Oath
A Virginia Notary can charge $5 for administering an Oath
A Washington State Notary can charge $10.00 for administering an Oath
A Washington DC Notary can charge $2 for administering an Oath
Note:  The price for Oaths and Affirmations in the mentioned states are identical.  We are only showing rates for highly populated states, and the rest of the state notary prices and notary rules and be queried by visiting our find a notary page.
Swearing in a Credible Witness?
If you need to use a Credible Witness as part of a signing, please consult your state notary manual to see if you can charge extra for each Oath you administer to them.
How much should  a notary charge for swearing in an affiant who is signing an affidavit?
Any time a person signs an Affidavit, or other document which requires a sworn Oath, the Notary (if they are using a notary) needs to have them raise their right hand and swear under oath.  The notary generally has to choose the verbiage for the oath which requires a small amount of skill and extemporaneous “improv” talent.   The notary should charge whatever their state allows as a fee for an Oath.
How much should a notary charge for swearing in someone who is not signing anything?
Sometimes the Oath accompanies a document that is going to be notarized, and other times it is an Oath of Office, an Oath for getting a commission, an Oath swearing them into court, or for a variety of other purposes.  The notary price for this type of Oath should be whatever the local state you are in allows a notary to charge for an Oath.
How do you document an Oath without a signature as a notary public?
Not all states require a notary to have a journal, but without a journal, you can not document any of your transactions, many of which might be very sensitive such as notarizations of Deeds, Powers of Attorney and other important documents that  could have high stakes involved.  If someone is taking a purely oral Oath with no paperwork involved, you should document this in your journal, and have the affiant sign your journal. You should document in the notes section of the journal that you administered an Oath, and write a few words describing what the oath was about.  The exact wording of the oath is not critical for the journal entry.  The notary price or notary fee for this type of act should be whatever the state in question allows a notary to charge for an Oath.

 Travel fees and waiting time?
Many years ago, I went to a lady’s house in Los Angeles.  She was having a court case by phone, and I was there to swear her in before the judge on the other end of the line.  I had to wait for 45 minutes, and had to drive twenty minutes as well. So, I charged a travel and a waiting fee.  I was a very reliable notary and got to this very critical appointment early, so I feel entitled to my fee!  Not all states allow travel fees or waiting time fees, so you need to know the notary prices and acceptable charges in your state of commission.

(1) How much can a notary charge for swearing in a Witness. A state by state fee chart!
(2) Notary Fees for swearing in witnesses range from $1 to $10 in the states we compared.
(3) How do you document an Oath that has no accompanying documentation? #Notary #Journal

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