Thursday, October 11, 2007

Notarizing With Physical Limitations

I love this career. I find it extremely rewarding. But there are times when notaries are drawn into very unpleasant situations. Last night was one of those situations. I was called to travel to a hospital to notarize a signature on a power of attorney for a man that I was told was gravely ill and had only hours to live. I was told that the individual was able to sign and that he was conscious and aware. After arriving, I was then informed that he was not physically able to sign. What to do next? In Michigan, a notary public can sign the name of a person whose physical limitations prevent them from signing or making a mark. Per 55.293, section 33 of the Michigan Notary Public Act, a notary public must be directed orally, verbally, physically, or through electronic or mechanical means provided by the individual to sign that person's name. The person must be in the physical presence of the notary public. Beneath the signature, the notary public inscribes the following: “Signature affixed pursuant to section 33 of the Michigan notary public act.”

Unfortunately, once I was taken to the room it was very clear that the individual was not aware or alert, and could in no way direct me to sign on their behalf. As difficult as it was, my only reasonable action was to decline.

As a notary public, this kind of situation is not uncommon. I would encourage everyone to know what their state allows in the event that an individual is physically unable to sign on their own behalf.


juk'ste-pozer said...

I'm just amazed that our MI NP Act doesn't provide any directive or even remotely suggest some guideline regarding the signer's mental awareness or lucidity! When you told me this during a conversation, Alex, I thought "surely, there must be SOMETHING" ... but I read them through front to back again, and I don't find anything either.

Now, THAT'S a pretty scary thought.

Alex Y. said...

I think it's clearly an inadvertent omission, not an intentional one. Determining someone's capacity to understand what they're signing seems to me to be a basic function of what a notary does. Aren't we being told that we're the front line in fraud prevention? Fortunately, we have the right to refuse a notarization. Whether or not the Michigan statute addresses mental status, I can still walk away if I have a concern. What worries me is how others may be handling these kinds of situations.