One thing that often lands a notary public in hot water is the unauthorized practice of law. Notaries attempting to assist someone with a document can often place themselves in legal jeopardy if they’re not careful.
What is Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)?
A notary public’s primary duties are to identify signers of a document and to serve as an impartial witness to the signing. When the notary steps outside these duties by offering advice, answering questions about the meaning of a document, or assisting in the preparation of a document, they are engaging in UPL. They are, in essence, offering legal services that are within the purvey of a licensed attorney.
The notary public cannot recommend what particular document a person needs, instruct as to which type of notarization is required, or provide an opinion as to the legality or effect of a document. They cannot assist in the physical preparation of a document or offer advice on how to draft or complete such.
Notaries Can Still Assist Signers
A notary public can provide limited assistance to a customer without stepping over the boundary into UPL. They should explain to the signer what their powers and limitations as a a notary are. The notary can explain the different types of notarial acts and certificates. They can also refer the signer to the receiving agency, or an attorney, for further assistance.
To summarize, please don’t be upset if your notary refuses to perform certain tasks for you or offer advice on how to do some things. They are merely following the law and protecting themselves from liability, fines or even jail time.