Incomplete Documents: What to do?
As notaries, we all know that feeling of dread when faced with Incomplete documents or documents that contain blank spaces. What to do? What to do? Not to worry, we have come up with some practical solutions to help you navigate these waters while protecting yourself.
Notarizing Incomplete Documents with Blank Pages
Simply put, notarizing a document with blank pages or blank spaces should never be done. Even if there is no state rule that prohibits this, blank spaces can lead to fraud and leave you vulnerable as the notary who notarized the incomplete document in question. For example, consider a transaction that involves the sale of property, which includes the transfer of funds between two parties. A blank space after the notarization has taken place presents an opportunity for monetary amounts to be altered.
Some states require notaries to conduct a complete scan of the document for their records, even if it’s just the last page that will be notarized. If this isn’t a requirement in your state, it might be something you should consider when dealing with financial transactions as a fraud deterrent. Notaries should refer to their state guidelines and public code of professional responsibility for further guidance.
Instances Where Blank Spaces are Acceptable?
There are a few instances when blank spaces are permitted. Signature spaces reserved for other signers who are not present is the most common one. A “sellers only” package may contain two signature spaces on the document but the seller may be the only one authorized to have their signature notarized at the signing. The additional space may be reserved for the buyer to sign, who will have their signature notarized at a different time with a different notary.
Another instance is when a section on the document is reserved for a government official. These spaces are usually boxed off and marked “for official use” on the document in a different section. In this case, it’s acceptable for the notary to proceed with the notarization.
There are also exceptions in the law for certain states. Be sure to check with your state guidelines for specific guidance. For example, here is the Notary Public Handbook for the state of California for 2020. Be sure to search Google for the handbook for your state if you are outside of California.
Completing Notary Certificates and Correcting Errors on Documents with Blank Spaces
Never leave blank spaces or omit information on the notary certificate. Incomplete notary wording can lead to document rejections and delayed processing. If there are blank spaces, you should defer to the signer to finalize the incomplete document. It is always the responsibility of the signer to finalize the incomplete document before the notarization can take place.
There will be instances when errors occur during the signing. Fortunately, these are typically easy to remedy. If the notary has made an error, they should strike a line though the incorrect wording, write the correct information next to it, and initial and date the correction. Notaries are only authorized to correct errors on the notary certificate and never in the body of the document. Any correction to errors on the certificate must be done at the time of execution and when the signer is present. A notary should never amend, change, or alter a certificate at a later date.
Want to read more from Kim? Check out our article on Loose Certificates.