Notaries have a legal obligation to verify the identity of their signers. Failing to do so can incur civil, criminal, and administrative liability. Unique situations can arise, however, where a signer’s identification cannot be easily verified. In these instances, some states permit the use of a credible witness to identify the signer.
A credible witness is a person who can legally guarantee the ID of the signer of a document when proper identification is not available. He or she essentially serves as a human identification card and makes it possible for the notary to execute documents even in the absence of a formal identification card. Examples of this scenario would include someone who has lost his or her identification, a minor with no identification, or an elderly or disabled person who does not have identification due to mobility issues.
Sometimes a signer has valid identification but physical appearance cannot be confirmed because of customary or religious beliefs. The notary may then respectfully request the signer to come to a separate room to reveal his or her appearance. If the person in question refuses, the notary can politely explain to the signer that the process cannot be completed without proper identification. A credible witness may then be called to verify the identification of the person.
Both the notary and the signer must know and trust the credible witness. Because the witness must be impartial, a family relationship between the signer and the credible witness would disqualify the witness.
Credible witnesses must also be vetted to ensure that they do not have a special financial interest in the process. If the witness has a special interest in the transaction, then he or she could deliberately misidentify the signer for personal gain.
In states that require only one credible identifying witness, the witness must know both the notary and the signer of the document personally. There must be a chain of personal knowledge from the witness to the signer to the notary.
The credible witness must sign an affidavit that states the following:
Some states require two credible witnesses. Both witnesses must know the signer and present valid identification. Both witnesses must also sign the affidavit.
After the credible witness has signed the affidavit, the signer in question must swear under oath that the statements are true. The notary public will complete the identification process by applying the notarial seal among other things required by the law.
When a credible witness is used to verify the identity of a signer, the notary should document the signing of the affidavit in his or her record book and include a cross-reference to the notarization for which the witness was used.
Regulations for using a credible witness vary by state. Check the requirements in your state before proceeding.
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