Be on the Lookout – What to Watch Out for Before Notarizing

As a Notary, you need to be observant when it comes to the document you are going to notarize, as well as the people who’s signature you will be notarizing. Following are some of the things you should be looking out for before you agree to notarize anything.

What kind of document is it? Does the person know what they will be signing? Remember – you are not a lawyer and you cannot give any legal advice. If the person who is to sign the document has any question regarding the content, you should advise them to speak with the preparer of the document, or an attorney. If the document is in a language the signer does not understand, you should not
perform any notary services.

Is the person competent to sign? If there is any question about the signer’s competency, whether they are mentally incapacitated, or appear mentally unaware, disoriented, intoxicated or drugged, you should not proceed.

Is the document complete? You do not have to read every word, just look it over to make sure that there are no missing pages or blanks that were not filled-in. The document needs to be complete before notarization. Also check that it is dated correctly – it is improper to notarize pre- or post-dated documents.

Is the notary acknowledgement on the document? Most documents contain the Notary paragraph at or near the end, while a few still use what is called a loose certificate. If it is missing, it is your choice on how to proceed. You can refuse, if you are not comfortable, or if there is room you can try to write the wording underneath the signature, or on the back of the document. If you choose to use a loose certificate (be very careful), make sure you are using one that pertains to your notarial act. It would also be wise to reference the document and add an additional seal imprint in this manner: After you notarize and affix your seal, line up both pages side by side and stamp in the middle so that both pages would be required to show the full seal.

Is the signer present? Anyone/everyone who is to sign the document should appear before you and provide a valid ID (if they are not personally known, of course). Nothing should be signed prior to this point.

Remember, you can refuse to sign anytime you suspect that something is wrong, deceptive, or illegal. Some people think that Notaries cannot refuse their services, but that is absolutely wrong. In fact, Florida law requires notaries to refuse services in certain situations.

Requirements to Become a Notary Public in Florida

So you want to become a Notary Public! Well, if you are in the State of Florida, applicants must:

1 Be at least 18 years of age

2 United States Citizen (if not a U.S. Citizen, the applicant must also submit a recorded Declaration of Domicile from the local courthouse)

3 Florida Resident (A FL driver's license number is required. If the applicant does not have a FL driver's license, a photocopy of one of the following is required: FL identification card, FL voter's registration card, FL homestead exemption, income tax form, recorded Declaration of Domicile, or a sworn Affidavit of Residency.)

4 No Felony Record (if an applicant has a felony conviction, or one which adjudication was withheld, additional documentation is required)

New applicants are required to complete a three hour course on the duties of Notary Public. The State of Florida offers a free online notary education course here – upon successful completion they also provide the certificate necessary to apply for your notary commission.

Florida state law also requires that a notary public post bond in the amount of $7,500.00, usually something you would purchase at the time you buy your seal/stamp.

Good luck to you!

Errors and Omissions Insurance for Notaries

What is E & O insurance, and how does it help a Notary Public?

E & O insurance, or Errors and Omissions insurance, covers a Notary in situations where an unintentional mistake causes injury to a third party. It is a kind of  “malpractice” insurance for Notaries. Some of you might already know what E & O insurance is, and think that it does not apply to Notaries because they are bonded – a common misconception. A Notary bond protects the public and is something that must be repaid by the Notary, in the case of a claim. E & O insurance coverage would protect the Notary in the instance of a claim, and the Notary would not be expected to reimburse the insurance company.

What types of mistakes are covered by Errors and Omissions insurance? Inadvertent errors, such as failure to affix your Notarial seal, or to properly identify the signer(s), could subject you to be held liable for any losses. Intentional errors and poor judgment, of course, are not covered. If a claim is made against you, even if it has no validity, you would have the burden of paying court costs etc. in defending yourself, if you did not have E & O coverage. With an E&O policy, you would have no repayment and no minimum or maximum deductible would be required. Also, the attorney fees and court costs are covered, up to your policy limit.

Here are a few examples of the common types of Notary mistakes:

The Notary Stamp is smeared or smudged.
The Notary Stamp covers text or signatures.
The Notary Acknowledgement is worded incorrectly.
Notary stamp missing (yes, it happens).
The Notary’s commission number missing.

If a Notary Public is performing loan signing services, there is even more room for error, such as:

Incorrect Notice of Right to Cancel dates.
Documents are missing signer’s initials.
Mistakes on the document(s) are corrected using white-out.
Notary did not correctly following closing instructions.
Loan Documents not returned in a timely manner.
Notary acknowledgement not completed, or completed improperly.
Notaries accepting personal checks over $500 (or over the amount allowed by State law).
Checks made out to the wrong company.

In Florida, a Notary Public is not required to have E & O coverage, but this insurance protects you against mistakes that can happen with any notarization. It only takes one mistake to potentially lose all of your hard earned money, and possibly even your business!

Errors and Omissions insurance rates vary according to the State in which you are a Notary, and the amount of coverage you choose. In some States minimal coverage starts out at less than $10.00 per year with maximum coverage at $200.00 per year.

The Rates in Florida for Individual policies range from $30 to $75 depending on policy limit chosen, and slightly more for group rates. Keep in mind that if you are an employer, you would want to look into a group policy because the individual policy would only cover the employee/notary and not the business. All in all, these costs are truly minimal, considering the consequences should there be a claim.