When to Refuse a Notarization

February 20, 2019 / Notary Association of America

As a notary, you may be required to refuse to perform an improper or illegal notarization. It is crucial to know when you can and cannot refuse to notarize a document. We highly advise you check with your state's notary handbook for further clarification.

Common reasons to refuse a notarization include:

  • The signer is not present.
  • The document is incomplete or blank.
  • The document has white-out on it.
  • You have a financial interest in the notarization.
  • The signer has been adjudicated mentally incapacitated and has not been restored to capacity as a matter of record.
  • The signer cannot produce acceptable identification.
  • The signer does not speak English and no one is available to translate the document to a common language.
  • The signer wants you to certify a copy of a vital record.

In some situations, you will have to use your best judgment when deciding whether to notarize a document. Reasons to refuse a notarization for your own protection may include:

  • The document does not have a prepared notary certificate, and the signer cannot tell you what notarial act is required.
  • You believe that the signer is being coerced or does not understand the consequences of signing the document.
  • The signer appears to be drunk, sedated, or disoriented.
  • You know or suspect that the transaction is deceptive, illegal, or false.
  • You are not comfortable with the request.
  • The signer is a minor.

You shouldn't refuse to perform a notarization that is lawful, so it is important to have a thorough understanding of the notary laws specific to your state.

When refusing to notarize a document, you should do so in a cautious and professional manner. Explain to the signer why you are unable to perform the notarization. Clearly state that notarizing the document could cause issues for you and the signer, especially if the notarial act violates the law. As an additional step to protect yourself, be sure to document the notarial refusal in your notary journal.