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Section 1. Essential Basics 

17th February, 2022

Section 1. Essential Basics 

a. Examine Document  

i. Incomplete Documents  

A notary public cannot take an acknowledgment on a document that is incomplete. 

(California Government Code section 8205.) 

When presented with a document containing a signature to be notarized, the notary public should visually scan the document to determine if the  document is complete. Blank spaces and blank lines should be examined to ensure information is not missing. Also, if a notary public has experience with a particular type of document, and  knows what information should be stated in the document, and that information is missing or incomplete, the notary public must refuse to notarize the signature. 

(California Government Code section 8205(a)(2).) 

ii. Foreign Language Documents 

A notary public can notarize a signature on a document written in a foreign language, whether or not they are familiar with the language, since a notary public’s function only relates to the signature and not the contents of the document. However, a notary public must be able to communicate with the customer in order for the signer to swear or affirm the contents of an  affidavit or to acknowledge the execution of a document, as well as to enable the notary public to obtain proper identification of the signer and to complete the required journal entries. An interpreter should not be used because vital information could be lost in the translation. If a notary public is unable to communicate with a customer, the customer should be referred to a  notary public who speaks the customer’s language. 

(See generally California Civil Code sections 1189 and 1195; California Government Code sections 8202, 8205 and 8206.) 

The notary public should be able to identify the type of document for entry in the notary  public’s journal. If unable to identify the type of document, the notary public must make an  entry to that effect in the journal, e.g., “a document in a foreign language.” As in all cases, the  notary public should determine if the document is complete and must not notarize the signature if  the document appears to be incomplete. The notarial certificate in a foreign language document  or attached to a foreign language document, e.g., the acknowledgment, jurat, or proof of execution by a subscribing witness must be written in English. California law requires these forms to be followed exactly and they appear in California law in the English language. 

(California Civil Code sections 1188, 1189 and 1195; California Government Code section  8202.)

Please note also, special rules apply to advertising notarial services in a language other than English. These rules will be discussed later.  

b. Verify Identity of the Signer 

Before performing most notarial acts, the notary public must confirm the identity of the person signing the document. For acknowledgments and jurats, a notary public is required to obtain satisfactory evidence of the signer’s identity. 

(California Civil Code sections 1185(a) and (b), and 1189; California Government Code section 8202.) 

i. Satisfactory Evidence 

Satisfactory evidence is the absence of any information, evidence, or other circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to believe that the individual is not the individual he or she claims to be and (A) identification documents meeting certain requirements or (B) the oath of a single credible witness or (C) the oaths of two credible witnesses. 

(California Civil Code section 1185(b).)

Since January 1, 2008, a notary public’s personal knowledge of a signer is not sufficient to establish the identity of the signer. 

ii. Identification Documents 

The identity of the signer can be established by the notary public’s reasonable reliance on the presentation of identification documents meeting the requirements of California Civil Code section 1185(b)(3) or (b)(4). In addition, there must be no information or circumstances leading a notary public to believe a signer is not who the signer claims to be. 

The types of identification documents listed below may be presented to a notary public to establish identity. These identification documents must be current, or have been issued within the previous five years. 

(California Civil Code section 1185(b)(3).) 

  • An identification card or driver’s license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles; or 
  • A United States passport; or 
  • An inmate identification card issued by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, if the inmate is in custody in California state prison; or 
  • Any form of inmate identification issued by a sheriff’s department, if the inmate is in custody in a local detention facility

Other California approved identification cards, consisting of any one of the following, that contain a serial or other identifying number, a photograph of the named person, a description of the named person, and the signature of the named person are also acceptable. These forms of identification must also be current, or have been issued within the previous five years.  

(California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(4))

  • A valid consular identification document issued by a consulate from the applicant’s country of citizenship, or a valid passport from the applicant’s country of citizenship; 
  • A driver’s license issued by another state or by a Canadian or Mexican public agency authorized to issue drivers’ licenses; 
  • An identification card issued by another state (this does not include an identification card issued by a Canadian or Mexican public agency); 
  • An identification card issued by any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States (military identification cards must still contain all of the information required by California Civil Code section 1185(b)(4) or they cannot be used as identification); or 
  • An employee identification card issued by an agency or office of a California city, a California county, a California city and county, or the State of California; 
  • An identification card issued by a federally recognized tribal government.
iii. Oath or Affirmation of a Single Credible Witness 

If there is no information or circumstances leading a notary public to believe a signer is not who the signer claims to be, and it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to present a paper identification document, the identity of the signer can be established by the oath of a single credible witness who personally knows the signer. However, the notary public also must personally know the credible witness and the credible witness must present a proper identification document. 

(California Civil Code section 1185(b)(1).) 

“Personally known” is not defined currently in California law. But it is interpreted for notarial purposes in California to have the same meaning as defined in former California Civil Code section 1185(b), (see Volume 8, West’s California Annotated Civil Code section 1185(b), (2007 edition), page 63), which is having an acquaintance with a person that establishes the person’s identity with at least reasonable certainty. An acquaintance substantial enough to  establish personal knowledge includes multiple, recent meetings with a person, including  meetings during which the person is identified by other people. A chain of circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe an acquaintance is who they say they are forms the  basis for personal knowledge. For example, co-workers have personal knowledge of each other  if they meet frequently at their workplace and colleagues and customers have identified them in the presence of others. A person will not likely personally know a social acquaintance that the person sees infrequently. (See cases collected in West’s California Annotated Civil Code (2007 edition) following section 1185.) 

Even though the notary public will personally know the credible witness, the notary public must still confirm the credible witness’ identity by examining a paper identification document that meets the requirements of California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(3) and (b)(4)

After the notary public has established the identity of the credible witness, the notary  public must administer an oath or affirmation to the credible witness to establish the identity of the signer. Under oath or affirmation, the credible witness must swear or affirm that each of the following statements is true (California Civil Code section 1185(b)(1)(A)(i)-(v)):  

  • The individual appearing before the notary public as the signer of the document is the person named in the document; 
  • The credible witness personally knows the signer; 
  • The credible witness reasonably believes that the circumstances of the signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to obtain another form of identification; 
  • The signer does not possess any of the identification documents authorized by law to establish the signer’s identity; and 
  • The credible witness does not have a financial interest in the document and is not named in the document. 
iv. Oath or Affirmation of Two Credible Witnesses 

If there is no information leading a notary public to believe a signer is not who the signer claims to be, and it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to present a paper identification document discussed earlier, the identity of the signer can be established by the oaths or affirmations of two credible witnesses who personally know the signer. 

(California  Civil Code section 1185(b)(2).) 

In such a case, the notary public does not need to personally  know either of the credible witnesses. The notary public establishes the identities of the two  credible witnesses only by the presentation of the paper identification documents meeting the requirements of California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(3) and (b)(4)

After the notary public has established the identity of the credible witnesses, the notary public must administer oaths or affirmations to the credible witnesses to establish the identity of the signer. Under oath or affirmation and under penalty of perjury, both credible witnesses must  swear or affirm that each of the following statements is true (California Civil Code section  1185(b)(2)): 

  • The individual appearing before the notary public as the signer of the document is the person named in the document; 
  • The credible witness personally knows the signer; 
  • The credible witness reasonably believes that the circumstances of the signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to obtain another form of identification; 
  • The signer does not possess any of the identification documents authorized by law to establish the signer’s identity; and 
  • The credible witness does not have a financial interest in the document and is not named in the document. 

EXAMPLES 

− Bob, Fred, and Joyce meet in a hotel lobby for the first time and after  discussing the need to have their signatures on important documents  notarized, approach Nat Notary. Bob is the signer of the documents and does  not have his wallet with him because it was stolen. Fred and Joyce offer to vouch for Bob. Nat Notary refuses to use Fred and Joyce as credible  witnesses since Bob, Fred and Joyce have just met and do not personally  know each other. Fred and Joyce cannot be credible witnesses to Bob’s  identity. 

− Nat Notary is called to notarize Irene’s signature on a company document. Nat Notary and Irene have never met before. Irene is away from home and  left her identification, her Illinois driver’s license, in Chicago. Irene asks Rene to vouch for Irene because Irene and Rene have known each other for  years. Nat Notary has also worked with Rene before. Rene can appear as a  credible witness for Irene so that Nat Notary can complete the notarization. 

c. Recording Journal Entry 

All official acts performed as a notary public must be recorded sequentially in the notary public’s active journal at the time the notarial act is performed. (California Government Code  section 8206(a)(1).) 

A notary public is guilty of a misdemeanor if the notary public willfully  fails to properly maintain his or her notarial journal. 

(California Government Code sections  8206(a) and 8228.1.) 

The following discussion describes and explains the information that must be recorded in the journal. 

  • The date and time the notary public performed the notarial service. The time may be written in standard or military format, but the law requires the time of the act to be recorded – the date alone is insufficient. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(A).) 
  • The type of notarial act performed. For example, a proof of execution by a subscribing witness, an acknowledgment, and a jurat are all types of notarial acts. Any member of the public may request a photostatic copy of the journal entry representing a specific  transaction, and copies of specific journal entries may be requested by the California Secretary of State, through civil and criminal subpoenas, or by a peace officer investigating a crime. Consequently, each journal entry should be full and complete.  (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(A).)
    • Best practices tip: A notary public should not write an abbreviation or acronym to describe the type of act. This may avoid confusion or misunderstandings as to the contents of the journal entry and type of notarial act. 
  • The character of every instrument sworn, affirmed, acknowledged, or proved before the notary public. The “character of every instrument” means the kind or type of document on which the signature is being notarized. Most notarial acts relate to another person signing or certifying a document. A description of the document containing the notarial  act must be recorded in the journal in addition to the type of act performed. For example, most signatures on grant deeds are acknowledged. The journal entry for a grant deed will  describe the character of the instrument as a “grant deed” and type of notarial act  performed as an “acknowledgment.” If more than one document contains notarized  signatures, the notary public must record the title or character of each document. A separate line must be used for each document. For example, if a notary public completes an acknowledgment certificate on a deed of trust and an acknowledgment certificate on a promissory note, the notary public must record on separate lines in the journal that a “deed of trust” and “promissory note” were the character of the instruments with notarized signatures, completing each line of the journal, in full. The notary public  cannot simply state that “loan docs” or “closing documents” were acknowledged. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(B).) 
  • The signature of each person whose signature is being notarized. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(C).)  
  •  A statement as to whether the identity of the person making an acknowledgment or taking an oath or affirmation was based on satisfactory evidence. A notary public must always obtain satisfactory evidence to prove the identity of a person making an acknowledgment  or taking an oath or affirmation. The journal entry for all acknowledgments, jurats and proofs of execution must include a statement indicating satisfactory evidence was obtained. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(D).) 
  • If the notary public accepted an identification document as listed in California Civil Code sections 1185(b)(3) and (b)(4) to meet the requirements of “satisfactory evidence,” then the notary public must record the type of identification document, the governmental agency that issued the identification, the serial or identifying number on the identification document, and the date the identification document was issued or expires. 
  • If the “satisfactory evidence” is based on the oath or affirmation of a single credible  witness, then the journal must contain the signature of the credible witness or the type of  identification document presented by the credible witness, the governmental agency that issued the identification, the serial or identifying number on the identification document, and the date the identification document was issued or expires. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(D).)
    • Best practices tip: Obtain both the signature of the single  credible witness and record the identifying document in the journal.  
  • If the “satisfactory evidence” is based on the oath or affirmation of two credible witnesses, then the journal must contain the signatures of each of the credible witnesses and the type of identifying documents presented by each of the credible witnesses, the governmental agency that issued each identification document, the serial number or other  number on each identification document, and the date of issue or expiration of each identification document. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(E).) 
  • The fee charged for the notarial act. If no fee is charged, “0” should be indicated. Only fees for the notarial act should be listed in the “fee” column of the journal. If there are additional charges for travel or other services, those additional charges may be itemized  in the “additional information” or “comments” column to distinguish those types of fees  from notarial act fees. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(F).) 
  • If the document with the notarized signature is a deed, quitclaim deed, deed of trust, or other document affecting real property, or a power of attorney, the notary public must require the party signing the document to place his or her right thumbprint in the journal as part of the line item entry for the transaction. If the right thumbprint is not available, then the notary public must have the party use his or her left thumbprint, or any available finger and must record the left thumbprint or which other fingerprint is captured in the journal. If the party signing the document is physically unable to provide a thumbprint or  fingerprint, the notary public must record that fact in the journal and must provide an explanation of the physical condition of the person. The thumbprint is not required for trustee’s deeds for a decree of foreclosure or a nonjudicial foreclosure, or a deed of reconveyance. (California Government Code section 8206(a)(2)(G).)