(Originally published in the March 2019 issue of The National Notary magazine.)
If you asked someone to tell you what a Notary does, they’d probably say “They just stamp and sign documents.” They couldn’t be more wrong. Ask anyone who’s ever needed a power of attorney notarized for an ailing parent, or any homebuyer who’s needed loan documents completed quickly to lock in an interest rate and they will tell you just how vital notarization is. And many Notaries go above and beyond their regular duties when volunteering to help people in need.
To show the many ways Notaries impact the lives of those around them, we asked state officials, Notaries and signers to share stories about how Notaries have made a difference in their communities.
Making A Difference Against Document Fraud
Without Notaries, most people don’t realize how vulnerable their important business, financial and personal documents would be to fraud and forgery, said Ozie Stallworth, director of Electronic Notarization and Notary Enforcement with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
“The thing I try to impress upon folks who want to become Notaries is that their primary role is to protect the public from fraud and forgery,” Stallworth said. “Once the Notary puts a seal and signature on the document, it will be accepted by businesses and public enterprises — even across the border in other countries — without question. That is because it carries the mark and seal of a trusted public official.”
Diligent Notaries have helped prevent real estate fraud and elder abuse — and in one grim California case, a Notary’s journal helped catch a group of killers who murdered an elderly Palm Springs man and used an impostor to visit a Notary and sign documents transferring the victim’s assets to the crooks. But one of the criminals left a thumbprint in a Notary’s journal, and the thumbprint helped police find and arrest the conspirators.
Making A Difference By Inspiring A New Career
If there’s someone who knows just how much of a difference a Notary can make in someone’s life, it’s Melissa Engeseth of Colorado Springs, Colorado — who was inspired to take a new career path thanks to a Notary’s kindness during a tough time in her life.
Decades ago, Engeseth got a Notary commission herself, but quit after a few years when she was told Notaries don’t do anything important. But nearly 20 years later, Engeseth was going through a divorce and refinancing her home. With her world in turmoil, she was uncertain about what direction her life would take next. But the Notary Signing Agent who notarized her refinancing documents inspired her.
During the signing, Engeseth talked about her situation and mentioned that she had been a Notary years ago. The NSA encouraged Engeseth to reapply for a commission and use it to start a new career.
“She opened up a door I thought was totally closed because it wasn’t useful. She totally proved me wrong,” Engeseth said. Engeseth applied for a new commission and started her own business, Bijou Courier and Notary Service. “It gave me new hope and a new opportunity to provide for my family.”
Making A Difference On A Couple’s Wedding Day
A wedding is one of the most momentous events in a couple’s lifetime. If it goes well, it can be a beautiful memory, but if it goes wrong, it can become a nightmare. When things started to go awry at one South Carolina wedding, the Notary conducting the wedding ceremony stepped up to save the day.
Last June, Sonita Leak was asked to officiate a wedding in the city of Greenville. As soon as she arrived, she realized there would be challenges — the rehearsal was taking place in the morning and the wedding was scheduled for the evening of the same day. To make matters worse, when the couple arrived for the rehearsal they found out there was no wedding coordinator. But Leak stepped in and offered to handle the duties of the wedding coordinator while also performing the ceremony. And with Leak’s help, the ceremony went beautifully.
“Looking at the smiles on the faces of the couple and their family and seeing that it all went off without a hitch was great,” said Leak, who is one of the NNA’s 2019 Notary of the Year Special Honorees.
Making A Difference For People In Need
Apart from deterring fraud, many Notaries make a difference by helping people in need. Stallworth recalled the recent floods that hit North Carolina, which led to several counties being designated as disaster areas.
“Many local Notaries volunteered their time and services to help people notarize documents to apply for relief funding or submit reports on their losses to insurance companies,” he said. “There was a great outpouring of assistance with Notaries providing services at no cost.”
Making A Difference For Adoptive Families
Adopting a child is a tough process. It’s time-consuming, stressful, costly and full of uncertainty. On top of that, prospective parents must complete a virtual mountain of documents. Finding a conscientious, compassionate Notary who understands the stress and challenges these hopeful parents face and accommodates their schedule can make an enormous difference.
Tara Bradford of Bozeman, Montana, has experienced this first hand — as an adoptee, an adoptive parent and a Notary who has helped many other parents by notarizing their paperwork.
“I’ve been told numerous times that offering to notarize documents for them helped lift a tremendous burden from them,” said Bradford, a 2014 NNA Notary of the Year Honoree. “One family’s father could only meet briefly to sign documents during his lunch hour, so I met him and his wife at the husband’s work so they could both sign at the same time. Another family had a very short deadline due to the urgency of their circumstances, so I was able to notarize their documents that same day. These were small ways I was able to make the process less stressful for them.”
Many adoptive parents remember the help provided by Notaries during adoptions. At the office of the Pennsylvania Department of State in Harrisburg, there is a wall full of photos of newly adopted children sent by parents as a token of appreciation to Notaries.
“Notarized documents submitted to the Department for authentication are an important part of adoption dossiers,” said Deputy Press Secretary Kaitlin Murphy at the Pennsylvania Department of State. “Customers have sent hundreds of photos of their newly adopted children to our office, and Notaries are a large and critical part of the process.”
Making A Difference Can Be As Simple As Doing Your Job Well
When it comes to making a difference, you may be asking, “What can I do as a Notary?” The simplest way is to do your job with courtesy, kindness and professionalism and always follow your state laws. A properly performed notarization gives a signer trust and reassurance in their documents that they wouldn’t otherwise have. And you can be satisfied knowing that you are just one of many ordinary Notaries out there making an extraordinary difference.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.