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  • Writer's picturejsiegelhill

The Consequences of Inadequate Notary Training: Who Pays the Price?

Updated: Feb 24

There are many things that can go wrong when the notary has little or no training. Think about the elderly or infirmed population who are home and are too sick or frail to travel. Then there are those who are in a skilled nursing facility or rehabilitation facility long-term. I will never schedule a Power of Attorney signing without first speaking on the phone with someone, who is usually an adult child or another relative. My first step is to allow the caller to explain their situation in full so I can then ask the right questions. With my checklist on hand, I can run through the right questions and listen for the answers. An untrained notary may not take the time to do that or doesn't think it's important. Many notaries have a BOOK NOW button on their website, and in a moment the appointment is scheduled. You can't replace a conversation with an online form. Notaries must know their state laws and keep on top of changes for the benefit of the signer. For example, when I've asked several people whether they had their current ID, several elderly people have told me that their photo ID (driver's license) had already expired. I happen to know that in Virginia, we are allowed to accept an expired ID (no more than five years expired) if the signer is in an assisted living facility or nursing home. This matter isn't addressed in our Virginia Notary Handbook, but it does appear in the Code of Virginia. This fact can be a huge deal for an elderly or infirmed person who is homebound, needs a document notarization immediately, but can't go out to the DMV to renew their expired ID. At the appointment, screening the signer for alertness and coherence, checking the signer's willingness, and looking for signs of durress is another extremely important step. I did go to an elderly woman's home who, for several years, had been under the control of her drug-addicted daughter. The daughter had taken control of her mother's finances, drained her bank account, and was charged with elder abuse. Perhaps if the first notary had been properly trained, they might have picked up on this and reported the situation. If the notary performs their role properly, they can potentially protect vulnerable people like this from unnecessary suffering. At the signing, the notary may request that the overbearing relative step out of the room in order for them to speak freely with the signer. One might think that the notary public just stamps and signs, and this is so far from the truth. I have been taking ongoing training for three years in various areas: real estate documents for various types of loan products, living trust/estate planning documents, and general notary work. Laws change, government documents get updated, technology changes, and we have to stay connected and current. I'm a member of several nationwide notary groups who participate in ongoing education so we can be well-equipped to serve the public. June Siegel-Hill November 8, 2023

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