From NNA: Notary Bulletin What Steps Must Be Taken When A Notary Dies?

What Steps Must Be Taken When A Notary Dies?

The death of a friend or loved one always leaves challenges for those left behind. Grieving the loss and unwinding the deceased’s personal and financial affairs are among these challenges. When the loved one was a Notary, those left behind may not know or consider that they have legal obligations to fulfill, such as properly disposing of the deceased’s Notary seal and journal. All Notaries should take steps to instruct family or friends about what to do in the event of their death.

Notify The Commissioning Official

The first thing you should arrange is for the commissioning official in your state to be notified of your death. California, Mississippi and New Mexico are among the states that require the Secretary of State to be notified. Mississippi has a specific form that must be completed for this purpose. You could place a blank form in a file or provide instructions for where to download the form.

Properly Dispose Of Notary’s Tools

In the wrong hands, a Notary’s seal can be used by criminals to forge a phony notarization on important documents, and a journal of notarial acts may contain personal information about signers that can be used to commit identity theft. That’s why you should leave instructions to ensure that your tools are not carelessly thrown away or left where someone might take them. Many states have provisions regarding this situation. Here are some examples:

Arizona requires a Notary seal and journals that contain only public records to be delivered by certified mail to the Secretary of State’s office within three months of a Notary’s death. Arizona has different rules for journals that include public and non-public records. A Notary’s journal that includes records that violate the attorney-client privilege or that are confidential under federal or Arizona law (such as records related to an abortion) becomes the property of the Notary’s employer and must be retained by the employer until five years after the date of the last record in the journal, after which the journal may be destroyed. Failure of a personal representative to properly dispose of the seal and journal is punishable by a $50-$500 fine.

California requires the personal representative of the Notary to promptly deliver all notarial records to the office of the county clerk in which the Notary’s oath of office is filed. The representative must destroy or deface the deceased Notary’s seal so that it cannot be taken and used by another person.

Florida only requires a Notary to have a seal, but not a journal. Its law therefore only addresses the seal, which must be destroyed when a Notary’s commission permanently ends, unless the Governor specifically requests the seal be turned in.

Hawaii requires a deceased Notary’s representative to deliver the Notary’s seal and journal to the state attorney general’s office within 90 days of the Notary’s death.

Texas requires a deceased Notary’s record books and public papers to be turned in to the county clerk’s office of the county where the Notary resided. The Notary’s seal should be destroyed to prevent misuse by another individual.

The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility

If your state doesn’t provide rules for disposing of your Notary seal and journal, you can follow The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility. It directs destroying or defacing the seal to ensure it cannot be misused. The Code directs keeping the journal in a secure place for at least 10 years from the date of the last entry, after which it can be destroyed.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

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