How to perform notary acts

All signers must be in your physical presence during notarization.

This is called “personal appearance.” You can’t notarize the signature of someone who contacts you only by mail, phone, or email.

You must properly identify all signers according to the notary laws.

There are 3 ways to properly identify a signer:

  1. Acceptable ID documents
    The documents must:
    • Be current.
    • Be issued by a federal or state government.
    • Contain the individuals photograph, signature, and physical description.
  2. Personal knowledge
    This doesn’t mean someone you were just introduced to. Ask yourself if you’d be able to describe your “personal knowledge” of the signer adequately when under oath in a court of law.
  3. On the oath or affirmation of a credible witness
    • You must know the credible witness.
    • The credible witness must know the signer.
    • The credible witness must identify the signer to you.

Make sure every notary act you perform includes all the required elements.

You are personally responsible and liable for every notary act you perform. For every notary act, make sure you include:

  • A notary certificate:
    • A notary certificate is the statement you complete and sign. It tells you what notary act to perform, and describes for everyone else exactly what you did. (See RCW 42.44.100 for examples).
    • The notary certificate can be part of the document or attached to it.
    • If there isn’t a notary certificate with the document, ask the signer to provide one. You can’t notarize without one.
  • The jurisdiction (state and county) where the notary act was performed.
  • The date the notary act was performed.
  • Your signature with your printed name underneath.
  • Your title (“Notary Public”)
  • An impression of your seal or stamp (not required when certifying an oath for court).
  • The expiration date of your notary appointment.

You may perform only those notary acts authorized by the notary public laws.

The following are the only notary acts you may perform, according to RCW 42.44.080:

Take an acknowledgement
When you take an acknowledgement, the signer is telling you that he or she:
  • Is signing the document voluntarily.
  • Understands the purpose of the document.
  • Acknowledges the signature, if pre-signed. (This is the only notary act that may be pre-signed, but the signer must still appear before you in person.)
How to take an acknowledgement
  1. Properly identify the signer.
  2. Watch the signer sign the document in front of you, or declare to you that the pre-signed signature is his or hers.
    • If the signer is physically unable to sign his or her name or make a mark, but is otherwise competent, you can take an acknowledgement and sign for the person per RCW 64.08.100.
  3. Take the signer’s acknowledgement by asking, “Do you acknowledge that you signed this document voluntarily for the purpose(s) stated in the document?”
    • If the signer is a representative of something or someone, such as a company officer or attorney-in-fact:
      • Add the representative capacity to the verbal acknowledgement, for example, “Do you acknowledge that you are the president of Acme, Inc. and that you signed this voluntarily for the purpose(s) stated in the document?”
      • You don’t need to see proof of the signer’s representative capacity.
  4. Complete the notary certificate.

 

Take a verification upon oath or affirmation
When you take a verification, the signer must:
  • Always sign in front of you.
  • Swear upon oath or affirm that the statement in the document is true.
How to take a verification
  1. Properly identify the signer.
  2. Watch the signer sign the document in front of you.
  3. Put the signer under oath by asking, “Do you swear (or affirm) that the contents of this document are true?”
  4. Complete the notary certificate.

 

Witness or attest a signature
When you witness or attest a signature, the signer must sign the document in front of you.
 
Certify or attest a copy of a document
  • When certifying a copy, it’s best to make the copy yourself from the original document.
  • You may attach the notary certificate on the document itself or on a separate piece of paper with a reference to the document.
Don’t notarize vital records, as these are actually certified copies issued by the holder of the original.
 
Make or note a protest of a negotiable instrument
Don’t perform this act!
It should be done by someone knowledgeable about this specific act, such as:
  • An attorney.
  • A person under the direction of an attorney.
  • An employee of a financial institution.
Notaries who are unfamiliar with this act are often persuaded to perform it incorrectly. Call us first.
 
Certify that an event has occurred or an act has been performed.
  • The event or act must be described in a document.
  • You must:
    • Have witnessed the event or act described in the document
    • or
    • Take the oath of a credible witness known to you.
  • You must not produce or sign the document.

 

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to use my seal/stamp each time I notarize a signature?

Yes, the signature and seal/stamp are evidence that your signature is genuine and that you are a notary public. However, it isn’t necessary to use a seal or stamp when certifying an oath to be used in a court in this state.

Am I required to keep a journal?

No, it isn’t a requirement in Washington. However, it’s to your advantage to keep one as a record of your notarizations.

Can I notarize my relative’s or spouse’s signature?

You’re only disqualified from notarizing your own signature. However, notarizing a relative’s or spouse’s signature may be seen as a conflict of interest.

Additional information

For more tips on notarizing, see the Notaries Archives on our LISTSERV page.

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