Notary Services for Seniors
There are no specific laws when notarizing for seniors who may be confined to a hospital bed, nursing home, or even in their own home. However, notaries should be aware of their commissioned state laws regarding making sure the elderly signer is coherent, present, and willing to sign the presented documents. Here are a few guidelines that every notary should follow when notarizing for the elderly.
Verify and Confirm Valid Identification
You might encounter seniors with an expired form of identification because they either don’t drive anymore or were unaware that it had expired. Always confirm the type of identification to be presented at the signing during the initial confirmation call. The identification must be a valid government-issued ID such as a driver’s license, a non-driver’s license photo ID, or a passport. The identification must be current. Expired identification is rarely acceptable (check your state guidelines). Confirming that the signer will have a valid ID. will save you time and prevent the need to reschedule an appointment, especially for mobile notaries making the drive to the client.
The Elderly Signer Must Be Present
Family members or caretakers cannot sign documents on behalf of their elderly relatives, nor can they take the place of the elderly signer’s presence. Excuses such as being confined to a bed or in a nursing home are never valid reasons to accept this type of request. Accepting the request is fraud and violates all notary guidelines. In New York, if an elderly signer does not have valid identification for some of the reasons explained above, the family member can serve as a credible witness attesting to the signer’s identity. Not every state allows this, so please check with your commissioned state guidelines. Even with a credible witness, the signer must be physically present at the signing and show a willingness to sign the documents without assistance.
The Elderly Signer Must Be Coherent and Willing to Sign
Some elderly signers may be confined to a bed, in a nursing home, or the hospital. In most situations, when a request for notary services is made, it is usually being requested by a family member or caretaker. This is fine, but when you arrive at the signing location, make sure you communicate with the actual signer. Introduce yourself and explain your role and the services you are providing at that time. Check for signs of incoherencies or non-verbal communication.
If the elderly signer is not responding, or there is inadequate two-way communication between you and the signer, then this could be a sign that the elderly signer is not coherent and most likely does not know what is going on. If the family member or caretaker responds to you instead of the elderly signer or talks over the signer, this should be considered a red flag.
The elderly signer must be willing to sign with no assistance. If you see signs of force by the family member or caretaker within their communication style to the signer, this could be a red flag. The signer should be able to communicate without assistance, be aware of what’s happening, and be physically able to sign their name on the document. If you encounter any of the above red flags, do not proceed with the signing, and explain to the family member or caretaker why you are refusing to proceed. It is better to be safe than sorry. Ignoring these suggested red flags can cost you your license and a day in court facing legal consequences due to suspected fraud.
Standard Documents Requested for Notary Services
The most frequent documents requested for elderly signers that are legal to notarize in New York are Power of Attorneys (POAs) and Living Wills. Under New York state laws, notaries are not allowed to notarize last wills and testaments. Every state is different, so check with your commissioned state.
A Power of Attorney in New York state requires two witnesses of individuals not named in the document and who do not have any financial benefit or gain from the document to be notarized. Although a Power of Attorney template can be obtained online, caretakers requesting notary services are responsible for completing the document. Please see our article on Power of Attorneys.
Living wills also require two witnesses; all information should be drafted and brought to you to notarize. Notaries are not attorneys and are not allowed to advise on any terms pertaining to the document(s) or give anything that could be considered legal advice.
Please be aware that sometimes elderly individuals are scammed regarding financial transactions. If you are privileged with providing notary services for an elderly signer, take the necessary steps to protect yourself and the signer.