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Massachusetts Frequently Asked Questions

Massachusetts Frequently Asked Questions

What are the appointments and terms of notaries public?

Notaries Public shall be appointed by the Governor in the same manner as judicial officers are appointed. Notaries shall hold their offices for seven years, unless sooner removed by the Governor with consent of the Governor's Council.

May I notarize a document written in a foreign language?
There is no law which says you can not notarize a document written in a foreign language. However, there are numerous potential problems including the fact that the term "notary public," when translated into other languages, can refer to a markedly different office, imbued with far greater authority than in the United States. For example, in Spanish speaking countries, the term "Notario Publico" refers to a person with authority similar to that of a U.S. attorney. A notary who has questions about a document written in a foreign language is encouraged to find another notary who understands the document (perhaps at a Consulate).

Can I be a notary if I am not a citizen of the US?
Yes. Legal U.S. residents who reside or conduct business in Massachusetts may apply for a notarial commission.

Do you have to be a resident of Massachusetts to become a notary public?
No. A person residing outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may apply for a notary commission if they work or do business in Massachusetts. However, notarial services must be conducted only within the borders of Massachusetts.

What happens if I change my name as a Notary in Massachusetts?
You may continue to use your former name as a notary until your commission expires. However, if you intend to notarize using your new name, while in the term of your maiden name, you must register it with the Secretary of State, using a re-registration form which can be obtained from the Division of Public Records (617-727-2836). Do not notarize any document in your new name until the re-registration certificate is issued to you. If you have notarized documents under your new name prior to receiving this certificate, these notarial acts must be validated by the Secretary of State as noted above.

Where may a Massachusetts Notary obtain an Embossing Seal?
Seals may be purchased from www.NotaryTrainer.com

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not offer notarial seals for sale nor does the Secretary of State endorse any specific vendor.

Massachusetts Commission Renewal
Near the end of your seven year term (approximately four weeks before the end of your appointment) the MA Secretary of State Office will send you a renewal form at the residential address you provided on your application seven years previously.

What if I move out of state during my term?

While moving out of Massachusetts does not automatically void a notary public commission, notaries should be aware that they may notarize documents only within the boundaries of the Commonwealth. A notary commission is renewable for a person who has moved outside the state if he continues to work or conduct business (and notarizes only) in the Commonwealth.

How do I renew my notary Massachusetts Notary Commission?
A renewal application will be mailed to a notary automatically from the Division of Public Records in the Office of the Secretary of State five weeks before a notary's commission is due to expire. The application must be completed and returned directly to the:

Notary Public Office
State House, Room 184
Boston, MA 02133

Then the applicant's name will be submitted to the Governor for reappointment, with the advice and consent of the Council. Once reappointed, the notary must again take the oath of office for the new appointment within 90 days in order for his or her commission to become valid. Be certain to notify the Division of Public Records at (617) 727-2836 if your address changes during your term to insure that your renewal application reaches you before your commission expires.

What happens if my commission expires before I have been reappointed and renew my oath?
Massachusetts law prohibits you from continuing to act as a notary public after your current commission has expired. Should you inadvertently notarize a document during this period; the Massachusetts Secretary of State can validate such an act to protect the integrity of your client's document by issuing a validation certificate from the Division of Public Records. For assistance in this area call (617) 727-2836.

What are the duties at the end of the Massachusetts Notary Commission?
When a notary resigns or his or her commission expires or is revoked, the notary shall: (a) as soon as reasonably practicable, destroy or deface all notary seals and stamps so that they may not be used; and (b) retain the notarial journal and records for seven years after the date of expiration, resignation, or revocation.

Which office receives complaints against notaries in Massachusetts?
An individual who would like to report the misconduct of a notary is directed to send to the Governor's Legal Counsel Office, State House, Room 271, Boston, MA 02133. A letter delineating the actions of the notary. Another copy should be sent to the Notary Public Office State House, Room 184, Boston, MA 02133. If the misconduct involves a fraudulent or criminal act on the part of the notary, a report/complaint should also be made with the Attorney General's office.

How does the Office of the Governor's Legal Counsel deal with those complaints?
The Office will contact the notary by phone if the alleged misconduct is considered minor. The notary will be informed of the complaint and will have a chance to respond to the complaint. The notary may be directed to the relevant sections of the executive order that describes what appropriate conduct is or discusses the proscribed conduct. If the misconduct is more serious the office may send the notary a letter warning the notary that his or her commission may be subject to non-renewal or revocation. If the conduct rises to the level of fraud or criminal activity, the Attorney General's office will be contacted and proceedings to revoke the notary's commission may ensue.

Do I have to get a new stamp or seal?

Notaries must have and use a stamp or seal. It can be either a black ink stamp, or a seal that makes an indentation on the paper. The stamp or seal must contain: (1) the notary public's name; (2) the words "notary public," "Commonwealth of Massachusetts" or "Massachusetts," and "my commission expires on" or "my commission expires" or "commission expires" (all of which indicate the commission expiration date); and (3) a facsimile of the great seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you are a current notary and have a seal that has all of this information except for the expiration date, you may obtain a black ink stamp that has your name and the expiration date. You then would use both the stamp and the seal each time you notarize a document. Order from www.NotaryTrainer.com

Who is required to keep a journal?
Non-attorney notary publics are required to keep a journal. Legal staff including paralegals and secretaries who are providing notary service in the context of their employment are exempt from the journal-keeping requirement.

What kind of journal do I need to keep?
The Massachusetts Notary Journal must be a bound book with sequentially numbered pages. A notary journal that has entries that are sequentially numbered will satisfy this requirement as well. The purpose of requiring a bound book is to prevent pages from being removed or altered. The book might be a special notary journal or a plain, bound book with sequentially numbered pages from a stationary store. Regardless of the kind of book you use, you must record all the information required by the Executive Order. order online at www.NotaryTrainer.com

I am a lawyer who conducts real estate or corporate closings that involve multiple documents. Do I have to record each individual document in the journal?
No. Section 11(c) (3) of the Executive Order specifically states that you may record as a single journal entry a transaction or proceeding that involves multiple documents signed by the same principal in the course of that transaction occurring on the same day. For example, if you notarize multiple documents at a corporate closing, you may include a single entry that describes the proceeding - "ABC and XYZ merger" - followed by the other information that is required by the Executive Order.

Can non-attorneys conduct real estate closings?
Conducting a real estate closing involves the practice of law in Massachusetts. Thus, non-attorney notaries public may not conduct real estate closings. A notary public who is employed by a bank may notarize a document in conjunction with the closing of his or her employer's real estate loans. Also, a non-attorney notary public who works for a bank may notarize bank documents relating to an equity line of credit or a refinance mortgage, absent other violation of the Executive Order.

Can attorneys charge for their legal work drafting a document that they also notarize?
Yes. Notaries can charge no more than the statutory amount set forth in General Laws chapter 262, section 41. (For example, the cost of noting, including recording and notices, shall not exceed $1.25.) However, an attorney or other professional may still charge a separate fee for document preparation or other professional services that are provided in conjunction with a document that is being notarized.

Can I certify a copy of a birth or death certificate?
A notary should not certify a copy of a birth or death certificate since cities and town have their own procedures for certifying birth and death certificates. Refer the person instead to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics or county clerk's office in the county where the birth occurred. For foreign birth certificates, refer the person to the consulate of the country of origin.

Can I certify a copy of a passport or a driver's license in Massachusetts?
Yes. a Notary can do this in Massachisetts.

Can I notarize an undated document?
If there is a space for a date it should be filled in with the correct date or lined through by the document signer. If the document simply doesn't have a date, it is acceptable to notarize it and record in your journal that the document has no date.

Can I notarize a document in which I am named?
No. A notary cannot notarize a document if he or she has a direct financial or beneficial interest in the transaction that the document is codifying. Being named in a document means that the notary cannot act as an impartial party.

Can I notarize a fax or a photocopy?
A photocopy or fax may be notarized, but only if it bears an original signature. That is, the copy must have been signed with an ink pen. A photocopied or faxed signature may never be notarized. Note that some public recorders will not accept notarized signatures on photocopied or faxed sheets because they will not adequately reproduce in microfilming. Also, if the document has been faxed on glossy fax paper, a copy should be made on bond paper and that copy then signed and notarized, as wording on glossy fax paper often fades. When carbon copies are made, the notary will sometimes be asked to conform rather than to notarize the copies. To conform a copy, the notary must reaffix the official seal on the copy (carbon will not readily transfer a seal impression) and write "Conformed Copy" prominently across the copy.

Am I permitted to notarize a will?
Although a notary may notarize a will, he or she should proceed with caution. The notary should not notarize a will unless clear instructions and notarial wording are provided, ideally by an attorney. Because wills are such important and complicated documents and there are potential pitfalls for notaries involved in notarizing them, many notaries or institutions may refuse to notarize wills. Examples of pitfalls are as follows: Some holographic (handwritten) wills may be invalidated by notarization. Also, notaries who make the mistake of helping prepare a will may be sued by would-be or dissatisfied heirs. Often, misguided individuals will prepare their own wills and bring them to notaries to have them "legalized." They will depend on the notaries to know what kind of notarial act is appropriate. Of course, non-attorney notaries have no authority to offer such advice. Whether notarized or not, these supposed "wills" may be worthless. In many states, notarization of a will is unnecessary if other witnessing procedures are used. Often, it is not the signature of the testator or testatrix (maker of the will) that must be notarized, but the signatures of witnesses on affidavits appended to the will.

Can I notarize a document with blank spaces?
A prudent notary should skim the document for blanks and ask the document signer to fill them in. If they are intended to be left blank, then the signer can line through them or write "N/A".

Does a document have to be signed in my presence?
No and yes. Documents requiring acknowledgements do not need to be signed in the notary's presence. However, the signer must appear before the notary at the time of notarization to acknowledge that he or she freely signed for the purposes stated in the document. An acknowledgement certificate indicates that the signer personally appeared before the notary, was identified by the notary, and acknowledged to the notary that the document was freely signed. On the other hand, documents requiring a jurat must indeed be signed in the notary's presence, as directed by the typical jurat wording, "Subscribed (signed) and sworn to before me…." In executing a jurat, a notary guarantees that the signer, personally appeared before the notary, was given an oath or affirmation by the notary, and signed in the notary's presence. In addition, even though it may not be a statutory requirement that the notary positively identify a signer for a jurat, it is always a good idea to do so.

May I complete certificate wording in blue ink or do I have to use black?
The notary should use a dark colored ink such as blue or black. Rarely, some receiving agencies may require the certificate to be filled out in a particular color. If so, the notary should comply.

The venue on the document is already completed with the wrong state and county. My signer says I can't change it. What do I do?
The document should not be notarized if the notary is not allowed to correct the wording. The venue is part of the notarial certificate, and regardless of the type of notarization, its accuracy is the notary's responsibility. Because the document is supposed to indicate where the notarization was performed, if the venue has already been completed incorrectly, it may be corrected by lining through the error, making the correction, and initialing the change.

I had a call requesting a photocopy of my journal entry. Do I have to comply?
Yes, you should comply if the following procedure is met. A person who wants to inspect or copy an entry in your journal must (1) demonstrate his or her identity through satisfactory evidence, (2) affix a signature in the journal in a separate, dated entry, and (3) specify the month, year, type of document, and name of the person for the notarial act or acts sought. The person may be shown only the entry or entries specified.& However, if you have a reasonable and explainable belief that a person bears a criminal or harmful intent in requesting the information, you may refuse to provide access to any entry and be able to substantiate your belief.

Can I notarize for a stranger with no identification?
When a document signer is not personally known to the notary and is not able to present reliable identification documents, that signer can be identified on the oath or affirmation of a credible identifying witness. The word of a credible identifying witness is satisfactory evidence of identity and equivalent to personal knowledge. A credible identifying witness, often called simply "a credible witness," is like a human ID card that identifies the document signer. The credible identifying witness must personally know the document signer and must also be personally known by the notary. This establishes a chain of personal knowledge connecting the notary with the signer. For example, if a stranger without satisfactory identification requests a notarization, the notary need not turn this person away if the notary has a friend present who personally knows the individual. The friend could serve as a credible identifying witness. By definition, a credible identifying witness is a believable person. Credible identifying witness should be honest, competent and impartial to the matter at hand. This means that the credible identifying witness should neither have a financial interest in a notarized document nor be named in it.

Can I send an unattached, completed acknowledgment certificate to a title company to correct an error?
No, an executed certificate should never be sent or given to another party, trusting them to attach it to the correct document. If it were fraudulently or mistakenly attached to another document, the notary would be in an indefensible position.

How do I correct a name that has been misspelled on the document and on the notarial certificate?
Only the document signer has authority to make any changes on the document; likewise, only a notary can correct the certificate. When you are correcting a notarial certificate, simply put a line through the mistake with ink, write the correction above or beside it, and initial and date the correction.

Can I limit my notarial services to customers? To people I know personally? To business associates?
No. As public officials, notaries must serve anyone who makes a lawful or reasonable request for notarization. Notarial services may be limited to transactions related to the place of employment; however these provisions do not allow the notary to refuse services based on the status of a signer.

What if I smear my seal on the document?
If there is room, affix a second impression nearby. It is not necessary to cross out the original seal impression or write an explanation on the document; the reason for the second impression will be obvious. If there is no room for a second impression, attach a separate certificate with the same wording, signature and a clear seal impression. Line through the original notarial wording and draw a line specifically through your seal and signature. Near that old certificate wording, write "See Attached Certificate."

Can I notarize for a family member?
No. You cannot notarize for your spouse, domestic partner, parent, guardian, child, or sibling, including those who are in-law, step, or "half relatives", except where such a family member is witness to a will or other legal document prepared by you, a notary public and attorney licensed in Massachusetts.