Caveat Notarius

Notarized documents are one of the first to be reviewed by opposing council because many parties are often willing to skip the formalities to gain conveniences.

Despite swearing to uphold the law, there are some notaries willing to operate illegally in collusion with their customers. Together their actions may constitute the crimes of misfeasance, fraud, forgery, or malfeasance. These transgressions may get noticed by a 3rd party, or by a judge if the document is revealed in a lawsuit.

- A desparate father whose wife just died needed to transfer a car to his son, but the seller forgot to sign the title before he left town. The notary, feeling sorry for the man, allowed him to sign as the seller. The clerk in the DMV who received the transfer papers recognized the seller as her neighbor and knew he had been out of the country for a month. The state police arrested the notary, she spent a day in jail, hired a lawyer for $10,000, got a 6-month suspension, 2-year probation, and had to do 100 hours of community service.

- Similarly, a bank notary notarized a wife’s signature, who was not present, on a mortgage. The notary was not aware the couple had legally separated. The judge annulled the mortgage and awarded the wife $22,500.

- Statutory requirements must be follwed. A judge invalidated a will because it was found through testimony that a nurse who was a witness had stood in the doorway of the room watching the proceedings, then went to her desk where the notary allowed her to sign as a witness. Furthermore, where witnesses have signed before the appearers did, wills, donations, and other authentic acts have been invalidated by judges.

- Blank spaces must be filled in before contracts are notarized. A real estate agent noticed they had skipped filling in the commission amount, so did it after the notarial procedure. The court upheld that the seller was not obligated to pay commission since she did not agree to it.

- Notarial acts are written as the notary’s first person narrative of what has transpired. Where the notary negelected to review the document but signed it, Judges have ruled the document to be a false representation.