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Florida Notaries- When to Refuse a Notarization

As a public officer, a notary must be prepared and willing to carry out his or her duties for a client who requests a notarial act that is both lawful and authorized. By acting as an impartial witness to the execution of documents, notaries help to deter fraud and promote the integrity of document transactions. There exist however, certain conditions and situations when a Florida notary is bound by law to refuse notary services.

Signer Issues

There are multiple signer-related issues that may compel a notary to refuse to perform a notarial act. For example, if a document signer does not physically appear before the notary, or cannot be identified by the notary through personal knowledge, satisfactory evidence of identification or a credible witness, then the notary must refuse to provide service. Florida statute also states that a notary may not take the acknowledgment of a signer who does not speak or understand the English language, unless the nature and effect of the document to be notarized is translated into a language the person does understand. Nor should the notary officiate if the notary and signer cannot communicate in a shared language. Other circumstances under which the notary should refuse to notarize include:

  • The signer refuses to sign the document when the notarial act requires it to be signed in the notary’s presence (oath, affirmation).
  • The signer asks the notary to perform an unauthorized act such as certifying a copy of a vital record.
  • The signer appears to be confused, or clearly does not understand the contents of the document.
  • The signer appears to be mentally incapacitated.
  • The signer appears to be intoxicated, sedated, or disoriented.
  • It is apparent that the signer is being coerced, or there is someone else present who appears to have control over the signer.

Prohibition Against Conflicts of Interest

Florida notary laws also provide certain prohibitions when the notarization presents a conflict of interest for the notary. For instance, a notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the notary public has a financial interest in or is a party to the underlying transaction. A notary may not notarize if he or she is a signer of the document. A notary must also refuse service if the signer is the notary’s spouse, parent, or child. Remaining an unbiased, disinterested party is one of a notary’s primary responsibilities, in order to promote the integrity of document transactions.

 

Document Issues

If a document does not meet the requirements of notarization, then the notary cannot proceed. Common situations that make a document ineligible for notarization include:

  • The document appears to be missing pages, or the notary did not receive all the pages.
  • The document does not contain a notarial certificate, and the signer is unable to instruct the notary which type of notarial certificate is required.
  • There are blank spaces in the document that appear to be critical to the signer’s understanding of the document, and the signer does not know what information belongs in these spaces.

Every notary must have a thorough understanding of his or her state’s notary laws in order to exercise the best judgement possible when servicing clients, and when making decisions about whether to refuse notarization.

Authentication of A Florida Notary’s Authority

Documents Leaving the State or Country

As a notary, you may be asked to notarize a document that is bound to another state or country. In some cases, it may be necessary to have your notarial act authenticated which will require an apostille or a certificate of notarial authority. Both, apostilles and certificates of notarial authority, verify the seal and signature of a notary on a document, and that the notary was duly commissioned on the date of the notarial act.

Although it is not the notary’s responsibility to obtain apostilles or certificates of authority, being familiar with your state’s processes will be valuable to your clients. For the official acts of Florida Notaries, the Secretary of State has the sole authority to issue notarial and apostille certifications.

Apostille

The authentication process for documents leaving the country was not streamlined until 1961 when a number of countries, including the U.S., entered into a treaty called the “Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents.” This treaty greatly simplified the authentication process for the countries that signed it by establishing a standardized certificate of authentication called an “apostille.” Your commissioning authority uses the apostille form for authenticating a notary’s authority only when the related document is headed a country that has signed the Hague Apostille Convention.

Certificate of Notarial Authority

Documents bound for jurisdictions within the United States, or for countries that have not signed the Hague Apostille Convention, will not receive an apostille but will receive a “certificate of notarial authority.” These documents may also require additional authentications by various entities including the United States Department of State. Like an apostille, this certificate of notarial authority authenticates a notary’s signature, seal and authority to act as a notary on the date that the notarial act was performed.

It is important to understand that apostilles or certificates of authority do not authenticate the contents of a document, nor do they affect the document’s purpose in any way. Apostilles and certificates of authority pertain strictly to the notary’s authority to perform notarial acts and the authenticity of the notary’s signature and seal.

How to File For Notary Authentications (Florida)

  • Gather notarized document(s) that you wish to have authenticated or certified.
  • Enclose a cover letter stating the name of the state or country in which the documents will be used. The country name is needed in order to authenticate the document correctly, whether by certificate of notarial authority or apostille.
  • Enclose the required payment in the form of check or money order. The certification of standard notarized documents costs $10 per document.
  • Insert a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of the documents.
  • Mail notarized documents, the cover letter, payment and self-addressed stamped envelope to the Secretary of State at the Division of Corporations:
Department of State
Division of Corporations
Apostille Certification
P.O. Box 6800
Tallahassee, FL 32314-6800

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