Does your Notarized Document need Witnesses?

The very act of notarization is an official witnessing of the signing of a document. However, in some cases additional witnesses are required. This is often the case when mortgages or wills are involved. There is no fixed rule as to the requirement for witnesses that applies in all cases in all localities. Witness requirements are established by State or County law. Sometimes the Title Company or Attorney creating the paperwork automatically includes a witness area on the “chance” that the document will be processed in an area that requires witnesses. As a I often run into a witness section on a document that is to be notarized.

Sometimes, but not always; the notary is permitted to both notarize and also witness the signature of the affiant. The witness requirement leads to some unique and interesting experiences. I have had clients “round up” building service personnel, from the lobby, to meet the witness requirement. On occasion, I have been asked to “provide” witnesses; which is usually impossible for me to do. I do not “carry around” little people in my notary bag of supplies who I can call upon to witness documents. Clients are advised to pre-read the documents and note if there are any witness requirements; and plan for neighbors or friends to be available. On some documents, the witness signatures are notarized and then the witnesses must be able to provide to me suitable identification.

Often the document which has a witness area does not actually need that section completed. If it would be difficult or awkward to arrange witnesses, you should ask the person providing the paperwork if the witnesses are really required. In any case, there is a proper way for the witness section to be completed, notarized or not. Generally the affiant’s signature line has their name preprinted “under the line”. As the names of the witnesses are generally unknown when the papers are prepared – there is just a line or two for the witness signatures. It is a best practice for the notary to have each witness neatly print their name under the line and use their normal signature on the witness line. As most signatures are unreadable, this allows for identification of the signature on the line.

It is wrong to ignore the witness area because it is inconvenient, as some jurisdictions will not process a document that does not meet their witness requirements. If there is a witness section, lacking positive assurance that it can be ignored – it should be completed in full. Often the client does not want neighbors or building staff to be aware of some personal documents. It should be made clear to the witnesses that they are not required to read the document and that they, in no way; are testifying as to the content, validity or truthfulness of the document. As a notary, has both witnessed and notarized many documents. However, it is the responsibility of the affiant, the person signing the document; to have any necessary witnesses available for the process to proceed smoothly.