While a Notary’s role in identifying document signers and preventing fraud is important, you are not allowed to use your commission to perform certain services. Here are 3 examples of things you cannot do as a Notary:
1. Don’t Endorse Advertising As A Notary
2. Don’t Use Your Notary Office To Offer Improper Legal Advice
3. Don’t Use Your Notary Seal To Make A Document Appear “Legal”
Why You Shouldn’t Endorse Advertisements
Notaries are sometimes asked to use their seal or official title to endorse a product, contest or individual in advertising. For example, you might be approached by someone who’s running a sweepstakes. The person wants to include your seal and signature in the ad, along with the message “This contest is guaranteed by a Notary Public.” Don’t do it.
Not only do many states prohibit using a Notary seal and commission except for authorized notarizations, but people seeing the ad may falsely assume that the ad is government-approved because a Notary is involved — and that’s just not true.
Only use your Notary commission to perform authorized acts. In 1977, a New York Notary certified that blood from the rock band KISS was mixed in the ink of their promotional comic book — an act that New York Notaries aren’t normally allowed to perform. While Notaries in Washington are authorized to certify that an event took place or an act was performed, Washington Notaries may only confirm that the occurrence or performance actually took place — not promote or endorse it in advertising.
Why You Shouldn’t Offer Unauthorized Legal Advice
Many people mistakenly assume that Notaries have legal know-how and can answer their questions about the legal effect of their documents, explain how to complete a document, or choose the type of notarization a signer needs for a document. While it may seem harmless to help a signer with these questions, under the law only a qualified attorney or other authorized legal professional is permitted to provide this information — Notaries cannot. If a nonattorney accidentally gave a signer wrong information that caused the signer’s document to be rejected, the person giving the information could be held liable for any damages that resulted, along with other penalties. For example, California Notaries can have their commissions suspended or revoked by the Secretary of State for the unauthorized practice of law.
Why You Can’t Use Your Notary Seal To Make A Document Appear “Legal”
Occasionally, individuals have asked Notaries to fulfill improper requests in order to “legalize” a document and make its contents binding in a court of law — for example, asking a Notary to affix a seal to a document without performing a notarization or completing any certificate wording.
These demands are often based on the mistaken belief that a Notary’s seal or signature by itself will automatically make a document legal in a court of law regardless of its content — but that’s not true. Notaries simply verify the identity of the signer — a receiving agency is not required to accept the validity or legality of the contents of a document solely based on whether it is notarized or includes a Notary seal. The mere presence of a Notary seal without a certificate is not a proper notarization. A Notary should never stamp, sign or use their commission for any request except notarizations permitted under state law. If you are asked to “legalize” a document by performing an improper or unlawful notarization, you should always refuse.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.