Refusal of notary service

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I did something last week that I have never done as a notary public -- I refused to notarize for someone.

Refusing notary service is a serious matter.  Notaries face the possibility of discrimination lawsuits for refusing to notarize if they don't have due cause.

But first, there is a difference between a notary refusing to notarize someone's signature, and turning someone down because the request for notarization was made when the notary was unavailable, or because the notary does not work on Sundays. 

There is no law that says that notaries have to make themselves available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  At least not in Colorado. And there is no law that says that a notary has to travel to someone to provide notary service.  And if a notary is sitting in a restaurant, having dinner with the family, they don't have to get up from the table and respond to a call for notary service at that moment.  A notary has every right to decline service.

Then there are the unlawful notarizations for which a notary can refuse service. And there can be many reasons.  For example, if a person does not have sufficient identification, and cannot be properly identified. 

Another reason a notary can refuse to notarize is if the person is mentally impaired and doesn't understand what they are signing. 

This was my reason for refusing notary service.

I got a call last week to go to an assisted living center to notarize a Power of Attorney.  The son was there with his mother. She was the one who would sign the Power of Attorney.  She had acceptable identification.  I recorded it in my notary journal.  Then I had her sign the journal.  This is when I began to suspect that there might be a problem.  She was unable to sign her name without coaching from her son.  He was basically telling her how to sign.  After she signed my journal I asked her a simple question:

'Do you know what type of document you are signing?' 

I sensed that her son had been rehearsing this with her because he had to give her cues.  After some coaxing she was able to say that it was a Power of Attorney, but didn't know what it was for.  The son made several attempts to get her to remember why she was signing it, but it was in vain.  He asked me if there was anything I could do to get her to sign.  That was out of the question.  A notary is not supposed to try to pursuade someone to sign a document.

It was at this point that I turned to him and apologized.  I told him that I could not notarize his mother's signature on the Power of Attorney.  He seemed to be prepared for that response.  He told me that he understood.  Perhaps he went through this scenario with a different notary.  He offered to pay me for traveling there and for the time spent, but I didn't accept it.

I felt bad that I had to refuse to notarize for someone.  But I knew that I had no other choice.  If she had signed the Power of Attorney, she would have signed her name to a document which she didn't understand.  And if the Power of Attorney was abused in any way, I would have been responsible.

Refusal of notary service.  It's not something that a notary ever wants to do.  But sometimes it's something that a notary has to do.



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Tina Allen
Exit Realty Tri-County - Mount Dora, FL

What a bad situation to be in....I admire you for sticking with your moral and ethical values, so many would have just followed through and you never know what may have come after. 

Feb 23, 2009 01:56 AM #1
Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

Wow...scary! Good for you to think twice.

Feb 23, 2009 01:57 AM #2
Lois Castleberry
RE/MAX Affiliates - Richwood, KY

Good call.  Especially with the elderly, being cautious is prudent.  That person needed to get the service of a lawyer if his mother's mental capacity was diminished. 



Feb 23, 2009 02:10 AM #3
Tony Grego, 317-663-4173 #1 Trade Association for Alternative Inv
REISA - 317-663-4173 - Indianapolis, IN
Had this situation happy to my wife with her Father who was in hospitice. Wish you were the notary. Cost tens of thousands and split up a family Thanks for your post Tony
Feb 23, 2009 02:13 AM #4
Jason Feinman
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - River Vale, NJ
Bergen County Real Estate Expert, ABR, CNE, e-PRO

A strange situation to be sure, but you know your duties and the situation was clearly presented where the woman was not competent. Good job and interesting to hear about.

Feb 23, 2009 02:14 AM #5
Benita Gottfried
New Vision Interiors LLC - Hopatcong, NJ

You have to do what your gut tells you. At the end of the day your thoughts would have haunted you to think of what horrors could be perpetrated against this poor old lady. i say good for you, for doing the right thing.

Feb 23, 2009 02:21 AM #6
Leon Austin
Mobile Notary Services - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Mobile Notary

Thank you to all who commented. I really felt terrible.  The mother had a document in her hands that she was supposed to sign.  Then, for some reason that she didn't understand, she would not be signing it.  She must have wondered why I left.  And I felt bad for her son.  That's his mother.



Feb 23, 2009 02:34 AM #7
Wolfgang Leonard
Jacksonville, FL

Yours was the right call.   Tough at the time, but looking back I don't think you regret it.

I had to refuse a notarization once, because of a language difference.  I realized early on that the signer's broken English was more than I originally thought, and too much was going thru his daughter as a translator. 

I looked up Notaries on my laptop that spoke the signers language and asked that they contact one of them.   It wasn't convenient for any of us, but it was the right thing to do. 

Feb 23, 2009 09:19 PM #8
Terry Lynch
LAR Notary and Closing Services - Saint Clair Shores, MI

Your response was a no brainer, no one transaction is worth your notary commission.

Feb 26, 2009 12:54 PM #9
Leon Austin
Mobile Notary Services - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Mobile Notary

I wouldn't go so far as to say it was a 'no brainer'.  There are notaries who would have notarized her signature. And perhaps they found one.




Feb 27, 2009 12:17 AM #10
Terry Miller
Miller Homes Group - Tyler, TX
Miller Homes Group and Tyler Apartment Locator

I don't blame you. That would make you a party to a possible and I say likely crime.

Mar 02, 2009 01:31 AM #11
Mary Ellen Elmore
Nunnelly, TN

This is one of the reasons we all need to be prepared for this to happen to us as people--as well as notaries.

We will all be elderly someday and we need certain documents already prepared and properly executed.

Mar 07, 2009 09:09 AM #12
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