From NNA: A Guide To Notarizing For Family Members
Updated 11-27-17. A Notary is an impartial witness to the signing of important documents. But how do you stay impartial if the signer is a family member? Spouses, parents, siblings and children often need documents notarized. Here are some helpful tips for handling notarization requests from family members.
Only Some States Say It’s Okay To Notarize For Relatives
If asked to notarize for a family member, the first thing to do is check your state’s laws. A few states prohibit Notaries from notarizing for most family members, including half- and step-relatives. Others prohibit notarizing for specific family members. For example, Florida and Massachusetts do not allow notarizing the signatures of a Notary’s spouse, parents or children. North Dakota, Oregon and West Virginia prohibit notarizing for spouses only.
On the other hand, many states, such as Texas, do not restrict Notaries from notarizing for relatives at all. Some states, including Alabama, California, Montana and Washington, caution Notaries against notarizing documents for relatives even though the law doesn’t specifically ban it.
If You’ll Benefit, Don’t Notarize It
Even if your state doesn’t restrict you from notarizing for a family member, you shouldn’t do it if you will benefit from the transaction in any way. If you are in a community property state, any transaction involving your spouse could potentially benefit you as well — even if your name isn’t on the document. Some states, such as Californiaand Pennsylvania, don’t specifically ban notarizing for relatives, but do prohibit it if the Notary has some kind of involvement in the notarized document. For example, California prohibits its Notaries from notarizing a document if the Notary has a direct financial or beneficial interest such as being named in the document or receiving a gift or benefit from a transaction detailed in the document apart from the Notary’s statutory fee.
If you’re not sure whether you’d stand to benefit from notarizing a document for a relative, it’s better to be safe and refer the relative to another Notary who’s not related or involved in the transaction.
The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility offers helpful guidance on this thorny subject. It urges the Notary to decline to notarize for close and step-relatives (see Standard II-B-5). It also calls for Notaries to avoid even the appearance of partiality, which happens in many cases involving family members (see Standard II-C-1).
Always Follow The Rules
If your state allows notarizing for a relative, remember that you still have to follow all the normal rules for identifying the signer and completing the notarization. Just because the signer is your spouse, child or other family member, it doesn’t give you the right to ignore Notary laws. Your relative will still need to appear in person before you, be identified according to state law and sign your journal entry if a journal record is required in your state.
If You Have Questions, Ask
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure about notarizing for a family member. Your state Notary agency may be able to help you, and NNA members can contact the Notary Hotline for assistance.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.