Originally published several years ago.
Notary Public Authority
We often ask questions about authority to signing agents, and the results are horrifying. Most Notaries do not know who is in charge of what. So, this article will sum it up clearly.
A Notary Public is a state appointed state official who is paid by customers, but whose “boss” or authority is the state Notary division. Many Notaries Public seem to be confused as to who their boss is, the one paying them or the one commissioning them. The problem is further complicated by the fact that the ones paying them often pay them for more than just Notary services as travel, pick up, drop off, and supervision of non-notarized signatures and packages seem to be part of the deal if you are a Signing Agent.
The Notary is the sole authority regarding what goes in a Notary certificate such as an Acknowledgment, Jurat, etc., what goes in the journal, what is allowed or not allowed, and how a notarization should be done.
It is common that Notaries have questions during a loan signing and direct those questions to the Lender or Title representative. This is okay for Title or Lending questions, but not for Notary questions where the Notary may only turn for help to their state Notary division, official Notary handbook, or perhaps the NNA hotline.
Notaries should NOT ask the Lender for Notary advice because:
1. The Lender is probably not a Notary
2. If the Lender is a Notary they might be in a different state
3. If the Lender is a Notary and in the same state they might not be knowledgeable.
4. If the Lender is a Notary, in the same state, and knowledgeable, they might (are likely to) give you advice that would make the job go more smoothly for them, yet have tremendous liability for you.
5. You are the one appointed to the job, so even if the person you are asking for advice is a Notary, they are not the one whose commission number gets put on the certificate, and you are the one going to jail if something goes wrong. Therefor, you have to know your laws and what you can and cannot do, etc.
Who can initial and where?
Any initials on a Notary certificate are done exclusively by the Notary Public. It looks like tampering if the borrower or anyone else makes marks on a Notary certificate. The borrower may initial documents, but not the Notary certificate or Notary section in or attached to a notarized document
The Lender is the “boss” of what happens with loan documents. If the Lender authorizes a change, initialing, cross outs, etc., on an actual loan document that is NOT in the notary section, that is up to them and they are the authority on that matter, not the Notary. The minute the issue becomes with a Notary certificate, then the authority swings over to the Notary (even if the Notary doesn’t have a clue what to do.)
The Title Officer
The appointed Title company might be a good source of information about how to handle any issues that might come up with Title documents or recorded documents. You can ask them if you have questions, but don’t let them answer Notary questions.
Issues of Preference can be asked to the Lender
Sometimes there is more than one legal way to handle a situation. If there is an error on a preprinted Acknowledgment, and your state allows a choice of crossing out & initialing vs. using a fresh Acknowledgment form, you have a choice. The Notary has the right to make that choice on his/her own and choose the option that he/she feels is more prudent or ask the Lender. However, this is a situation where the Notary can ask the Lender not for advice, but for preference. If the Lender would prefer a loose Acknowledgment stapled on to the document rather than crossing out & initialing the original form, the Notary can proceed accordingly.
The borrower has the right to sign, not sign, tell you where to park and more. Their preferences matter as well.
Your state Notary division decides what the laws are in your state, how they are explained or document in your official Notary handbook, etc. They are your boss, so you do whatever they say. Additionally, if you are weak on your Notary knowledge, that can lead to ending up in court as a witness, having your commission revoked, suspended or terminated. Additionally, it is possible to be convicted of a crime if you are thought to be involved in property related fraud, or if you filled out a form stating that an Oath was taken when in fact it was never taken which is a daily fraud that most Notaries engage in that is unacceptable.
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