Verbal Ceremony

The Necessity of Performing the Verbal Ceremony
ASN Hot Tip, August 2008-#2

The Situation:  A notary was contacted by a client not long after she had performed an acknowledgment notarial act for him. The client informed the notary that he did not adequately understand the contents of the document at the time of the notarization. He now realizes that he shouldn’t have signed the document because the transaction was not in his best interests. He informed the notary that she would be subpoenaed for a court case having to do with the transaction, the document, and the associated notarial act.

The Notary’s Dilemma:  When she performed the notarial act, our notary failed to ask the client if he understood the contents of the document, if he was aware of the consequences of signing the document, and if he was signing of his own free will. The notary simply signed and sealed the notarial certificate without any conversation, between herself and the signer, that would have helped her make these assessments. This was a grave oversight, since assuring oneself that the signer understands the terms and effects of a document, and is signing the document willingly for its stated purpose, is an essential function of a notary taking an acknowledgment. At a minimum, the notary should have performed the verbal ceremony for an acknowledgment, a vital step that was omitted.

The Solution:  This notary’s time for a solution to this particular dilemma has passed. Hopefully, she has an Errors & Omissions policy in an amount that will cover her attorney’s fees and any judgment against her that the court may award to her former client.

This is a cautionary tale for notaries who habitually fill out the notarial certificate for an acknowledgment or an oath/affirmation without performing the verbal ceremony. If this describes you, you must immediately change your ways! Not only should you converse with every client and perform the appropriate verbal ceremony for every notarial act, but you should also observe the client’s demeanor to see if he or she seems hesitant or uncertain of the proceedings. If the behavior of the client leads you to believe that he/she is not capable of fully understanding the nature of the transaction, you must decline to proceed with the notarization.

Consider also that notaries who do not perform the verbal ceremony will likely complete a false notarial certificate, a serious offense in most states. “Acknowledged” in the notarial certificate means that the notary heard the client reply “yes” (or “I do” or other similar words) to the questions posed in the verbal ceremony. “Sworn to or affirmed” means that the notary performed a verbal ceremony for an oath or affirmation, and clearly heard the client reply in the affirmative that the information in the document is the truth. If the notary has signed/sealed a notarial certificate containing this terminology, but failed to perform the verbal ceremony, then a false notarial certificate has been created.

The Moral of the Story:  always perform the appropriate verbal ceremony when the notarial act requires one! It takes only a little more time, but adds an infinite amount of professionalism to the notarial ceremony.

Here is basic wording for the most common verbal ceremonies:

"Do you acknowledge and declare that you understand this document and have signed it voluntarily for the purposes stated in it?"

"Do you swear under the penalties of perjury that the information contained in this document is the truth, so help you God?"

“Do you affirm under the penalties of perjury that the information contained in this document is the truth?”

Questions, comments on this Hot Tip?  Email

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