Clarifying the Role of a Notary: California’s Approach

By: John Morrissey, COGENCY GLOBAL INC. on Mon, May 11, 2015
NLegalized or apostilled documentsotarized documents are an important part of many legal transactions. Corporate transaction documents, court filings, transfers of title to real estate, wills, immigration documents, adoptions and documents legalized or apostilled for use in foreign countries all commonly include notarized documents. The notarization process, however, is often treated as a mere formality and it is not uncommon for the participants in the transaction to misunderstand the notary’s role in the transaction or the meaning of the notary’s attestation. Is the notary certifying to the identity of the signer or the content of the document? With legalized or apostilled documents intended for use outside of the United States or in a transaction involving recent immigrants, the possibility for confusion increases because of the significant differences between the responsibilities of notaries in the U.S. and the responsibilities of officials with similar titles in other countries.


Confusion Can Lead to Fraud
This confusion can lead to fraud or other misuse of notarized documents. For instance, the Secretary of State of California recently stated “When people are unfamiliar with the meaning of a notary’s seal, it creates an opportunity for criminals to imply or falsely state that a notary’s seal and signature represent an official endorsement or approval of the document.”[1]


California Addresses Confusion by Enacting Senate Bill 1050
In an attempt to minimize the opportunity for fraud, the California legislature passed legislation with a unique, but simple, solution. California Senate Bill 1050, signed by Governor Brown on August 15, 2014, effective January 1, 2015, requires that the following consumer notice appear in a box at the top of specified notary certificates:

“A notary public or other officer completing this certificate verifies only the identity of the individual who signed the document to which this certificate is attached, and not the truthfulness, accuracy, or validity of the document.”

The notice puts both the signer and the intended recipient of the document on notice that the notary’s seal and signature do not represent an official endorsement or approval of the document.


Effective Deterrent to Fraud or Bureaucratic Annoyance?
Obviously the notice does not act as a deterrent to other types of notary fraud such as the forgery of signatures, notarizing a document when the signer is not in the presence of the notary and the robosigning of real estate foreclosure documents. Not to mention that many people sign documents without bothering to read them. It will be interesting to see if the notice is an effective deterrent to notary fraud or merely another bureaucratic annoyance.

[1] See bill analysis for California SB 1050.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice.

Topics: Authentication / Legalization