Incomplete Document for Notarization

“Incomplete” Documents…Missing Pages or Blanks

Notaries, how many of you have been known to say, “I don’t concern myself with the contents of the document, I just notarize signatures”?

If you have indeed spoken these words, then it’s time to refine your position. If you fail to perform a scan of the document contents, then you may not be properly assessing document completeness. This could be a serious oversight, as all notaries are required either by law or best practices to decline notarizing an incomplete document.

“Incomplete” documents are those with missing pages, or that contain blanks in the document that should be complete prior to notarization.  

Missing pages are generally easier to notice—either you have all the pages of a multi-page document or you don’t. If, for example, you are presented with only the signature page of a multi-page document, you must tell the signer you cannot proceed until you have the complete document.

Blanks in the document, however, require special handling.

With any blank, we suggest that you ask the signer if the blank is for information that is not available until after the notarization. (This is not uncommon...“For Office Use Only” blanks, for example.) If the signer tells you that information belonging in a blank is not meant to be added to the form until after notarization, then that blank does not pose a barrier to notarization.

If, however, the signer tells you there are blanks that should be complete at the point of notarization, then he/she needs to address them. The signer must either know how to complete the blank space himself, or seek guidance from the document originator, document recipient, attorney, or some other person connected to the transaction—but NOT the notary. The signer would also need to seek this guidance from others if he/she actually does not know if blanks in the document should be complete now, or if they are meant to be completed later.

Carefully note any discussions you have about an incomplete document in your notary journal/recordbook (the “Comments” section). For example, “Several blanks in document, signer said they cannot be filled until after notarization.” Or, “Signer filled blanks after discussing with document recipient.” These are just examples to illustrate how you can record any conversation between you and the signer about an incomplete document.

So, in our view, you are doing more than just “notarizing the signature.” You are executing a complete notarial act that includes scanning the document to ensure it has the features that allow you to proceed… proper date (if dated) which is same day as notarization or earlier; clear indication of the notarial act you must perform; no missing pages or referenced addendums/attachments; and no blanks that the signer indicates should be filled prior to notarization. 
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