No one likes to deal with government red tape. But for Notaries, the red tape can be especially frustrating when they are presented with certain forms from a local government or federal agency. These forms can instruct a Notary to do questionable things. It might be to perform an unauthorized act, stamp a document without room for the seal, place half a seal impression on a photo or complete notarial wording that doesn’t comply with the law. If you encounter one of these tricky forms, here’s what you need to ask before proceeding with the notarization.
First Question: Can I Do This?
The first and most important question you need to ask is whether the laws of your state or jurisdiction permit you to perform the act requested on the form. In most cases, you’ll be able to do so because the documents simply ask for a straightforward acknowledgment or jurat. But some cases are less clear-cut and may include confusing instructions, like the Form I-9 used to verify employee eligibility to work in the U.S.
The I-9 Form doesn’t require notarization, but the current Handbook for Employers states that a Notary Public can help a new employee fill out the form and sign Section 2 as an “authorized representative” on the new employee’s behalf. While Notaries generally (except in California) may sign the I-9 as an authorized representative and not a Notary, many companies have instructed Notaries to write “Notary Public” as their title underneath their signature or worse, notarize their own signature on the form, which is not permitted in any state.
There are cases when a state Notary regulating official provides instructions for notarizing uncommon documents that seem to contradict usual practices. For example, the California Secretary of State’s 2014 newsletter included a message that California Notaries handling hunter deer and bear tags. The Secretary’s office said Notaries don’t have to complete a notarial certificate and may not affix their seals on the tag or charge a fee for the notarization. They must countersign the tag, however, and record the act in their journals.
Second Question: Is There Room for My Seal?
Some government documents may ask for a standard acknowledgment or jurat, but may have little or no room to affix a seal impression.
We posted a Hotline Tip about one such form, the “TSP-70,” which is used when a former federal employee wishes to withdraw money from a government-provided savings account. Form TSP-70 tells the Notary, “No other acknowledgement is acceptable” but the one on the document, but then provides virtually no space for the seal. In such cases, the NNA recommends that Notaries with rectangular seals affix the seal vertically in the left-hand margin where there may be space without placing it over the text in the document. Notaries with circular seals may be out of luck if their state’s law prohibits the seal from being placed over any text or signatures on the document. If that’s you, you’ll have to refuse to perform the notarization.