By Carol Salter—(At the time I wrote this article, my house was on the market.) Yes, I am attempting to sell my house during one of the most turbulent times in the housing industry. We made the decision to send my daughter to a new school and decided that it would be easier to move half way between school and work. So, here we find ourselves with a “For Sale” sign in the yard. Truthfully, I am not too worried about selling, packing, or even moving. I do, however feel a little anxious about closing. I guess because I have experienced loan closings or refinances where the “notary” was not following proper notarial procedure or in some cases following the law.

I know that many mortgage lenders/brokers have their own notaries on staff. And often they are the same person. It is important that if you find yourself in this category, you follow proper notarial procedure. I had someone photocopy my driver’s license so when they notarized the document later, they would have all the information. I asked them, “You can’t possibly consider notarizing this document when the signer (me) is not in your presence, especially since this type of notarization requires an administration of an oath or affirmation.” They looked at me like I was from another planet. “This is the way we always do it” was the reply. I politely but firmly told them that no notarization would be taking place unless I was physically in their presence. The closing was somewhat tense from that point, but I was assured that at least the notarizations performed were legal and ethical.

So, let’s take a look at very basic proper notarial procedures to ensure that every notarization, whether relating to housing or not, is performed with the utmost standards of excellence. First of all, keep a journal. It does not matter whether your state requires it or not, it is a best practice. In fact, I know quite a few states where this is becoming law. Your journal is your defense and shows due diligence on your part. When the signer of the document signs your journal, it shows secondly, personal appearance. It shows that you required personal appearance for the notarization and did not notarize something fraudulently. The jurat notarization requires that you administer an oath or affirmation to the signer. They must swear to the validity of the document. That would be impossible to do if the signer is not there.

Next, check identification. As I have preached in other articles, notaries are the first line of defense in identity fraud. We have an obligation to make sure that the person is properly identified. Not only do we identify, we must make a determination of willingness and awareness. This is vitally important. As notaries, we have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable. I can’t tell you how many I times I have asked the family to leave the room so I can talk just with the signer. I am amazed at how many feel pressured to sign something they don’t want to or don’t understand. I do not complete the notarization and politely tell the family the reasons why. The sad thing is, they will probably find another unethical notary or one who has not had any training or any confidence to say no, to perform the notarization.

Lastly, make sure you are not notarizing documents with blanks or that are pre-dated. Again, if you as the notary do not deter fraud, who will? The more knowledge you have of notarial law, your state laws and proper notarial procedure, the more excellent your notarizations will be.