As a Notary Public, you have certainly been faced with questions surrounding notary witnesses. Documents you are notarizing must also be witnessed and your clients assume you can do both. Can you? Maybe, but, that depends on your state’s laws. Ideally, you should seek another party to witness and not serve as both. The reason is that you want to avoid any interpretation of a conflict of interest. As such, it is recommended to maintain no connection between who is the witness and who is the Notary. You want to uphold being a neutral party to the signing of the documents.
How to Solve the Witness Dilemma
So, what do you do in a situation where a witness is not present or you need to have a witness or sometimes even two witnesses on the document? I have been in this situation! I have learned to ask questions before my arrival at the appointment. I have even asked the client to text or email me a copy of the document.
This allows you to set the appropriate expectations and explain the process to your client. If it is determined that a witness is needed and your client cannot obtain one then you are prepared to help them navigate finding a witness. I have even brought my husband with me on an appointment because we had no other options. Be resourceful and you can always find a way!
However, I have had situations where I had to ask the neighbor, or have the client call over a friend or a stranger at the coffee shop to witness. That is why it is important to ask the question ahead of time and set the right expectations. You also want to guide your witness so they are knowledgeable about what to do and what is being asked of them. Make sure they agree and understand as a notary witness that they have seen the signing take place and verified the identity of the signer. Knowing your state laws will also give you guidance on whether or not you can witness as well as notarize a document.
For more information on notary witnesses, read our article in What Makes a Credible Witness.
Be Informed and Know The Type of Witness Needed
Sometimes Notaries confuse the type of “witnessing” that is being required. A witness of a document is a person who watches another person sign a document. They are private individuals who may need to be at least 18 years of age and not a close relative of the person signing the document to avoid a conflict of interest. Witnessing a document may require that person to provide their contact information and identification.
Unlike a witness of a document, when you (as the Notary) are witnessing a signature or attesting to a signature, you are performing an official notarial act, which only a Notary can do. In addition, there are several requirements a Notary must ensure have been met before performing this official act.
Witnessing a signature is different than an acknowledgement of a signing. If you are acting as a notary witness to a document, you are not performing an official notarization. You watched a signature on a document as a private individual.
Witnessing a document being signed as well as notarizing other signatures on the same document may create a conflict of interest. To avoid this possible conflict (even if allowed by your state) it is recommended to not do both, as it is easy to confuse acting as a Notary versus acting as a witness. It is always a good idea to document the witness’s identification, name, phone and address in case you need to prove that they really witnessed a signature. Every state has specific rules regarding document witnesses. Please reference your state’s Notary rules for additional guidance.
There are things to keep in mind as a Notary when being asked to witness a document. You want to make sure to avoid any interpretation that a conflict of interest exists. Ideally, you should try not to serve as both. To help understand the needs of your clients and how to help them look at the document ahead of time while determining if the document needs additional witnesses. This will allow you to be prepared and provide a smooth transaction. Know your state laws and what type of witness is required. In certain circumstances, a witness can only be the Notary. Understanding the requirements will help you better navigate the transaction.
For services related to document signings, National Paralegal Notary has some great tools for Document Signing Services.