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Notary Notes

What Am I doing When I'm Witnessing or Attesting a Signature?

by PAN
The Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA) brought a new notarial act to Pennsylvania called "witnessing or attesting a signature." The notarial certificate for this act states that the notary saw the customer sign a document on a given date.

A number of comments and questions from PAN members showed some confusion about the new notarial act. For example:
  • "If a customer signs a document in front of me, isn't that witnessing their signature?"
  • "If a customer brings me a document he or she signed and tells me they signed it, isn't that witnessing their signature?"
  • I don't want to be responsible if, after the customer leaves my office, the customer changes their statement on a document I notarized.
    Can I tell customers I will only witness their signatures?"
When a customer asks you to notarize a document, the notarial wording on the document determines the notarial act you should perform. If there is no notarial wording on the document, the customer - not you - must decide which notarial act the customer wants. You may assist the customer by describing the notarial acts you are authorized to perform but you cannot choose the notarial act for the customer. Once the customer decides, and with the customer's permission, you may add the proper notarial wording to the document.

If a customer needs to sign a document in front of you, the act called for by the notarial wording (or by the customer's choice) could be an oath or affirmation, a verification on oath or affirmation, an acknowledgment, or a witnessed or attested signature. Each of these notarial acts has a different purpose.
  • An oath or affirmation is the customer's oral declaration, with you as a witness, that the customer will keep a promise or perform a duty faithfully.
  • A verification on oath or affirmation is the customer's written, sworn declaration, with you as a witness, that the customer's statement or information given in a record is true.
  • An acknowledgment is the customer's declaration, with you as a witness, that the customer signed a document, meant to sign the document, and knew why he or she was signing the document.
  • A witnessed or attested signature is you - the notary's - statement that a customer signed a document in your presence. The customer does not take an oath or affirmation and does not acknowledge his or her signature.
Each notarial act has a different purpose, described by the notarial wording that is either on the document or selected by the customer. Your official stamp and signature assures the receiver of the document that the customer appeared in person before you, was identified, and performed the actions described in the notarial wording.

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