Foreign Document Notarization

Notary Errors on Documents Destined for Foreign Countries

Last week, our article Use Caution when Notarizing for Elections and Political Candidates described how notarial errors on election and candidate forms can cause a notary to become an ugly headline in the media. There is one more situation that brings notary errors under a microscope.  Today’s topic is about errors that appear on notarized documents that will be used outside of the U.S. and requires an apostille or certificate of authentication.

Example of Document Requiring an Apostille

Suppose a citizen of China intends to marry a U.S. citizen and the wedding will take place in China. Before this can go forward, according to information on the website of the Consulate General of China  in San Francisco, the U.S. citizen must appear before a notary and sign an  Affidavit of Single Status.  

The signer of the affidavit will follow certain steps to request an apostille be issued and attached to the document before sending it to the Chinese government to further satisfy rules regarding marriage in China.  This means that after the affidavit is notarized, the presiding notary’s status and signature will be verified through the state or county office  tasked with authenticating notaries’ signatures and issuing  apostilles or certificates of authentication.

Notarial Acts Must be Flawless Before Leaving the U.S.

Ultimately, the affidavit will be inspected with scrutiny by the office that issued the notary’s commission to see if the signature on the notary’s certificate matches the notary’s signature on file. There are many other points that will be checked during this process, and if the notarial certificate is flawless, the apostille will be issued without notice to the notary.

However, if there are errors, the document will be returned to the couple to have it notarized properly, and the  couple will be delayed in receiving permission to marry. As an aside, it should be mentioned that this is not the only type of document that will be used outside of the country. The types of documents that require authentication of the notary’s signature are unlimited.

Every client who needs a notary’s signature authenticated is burdened by delays when notary errors occur.  As a result, the notary who made the error will receive an admonishment or other disciplinary action from the office that issues its commission. Depending on the document type and other circumstances, the notary may even be suspended or have his or her commission revoked. Even worse is the possibility of being sued by a signer who has sustained financial damages because of a notarial error on documents of this type.

Unfortunately, there is a high rate of these types of errors. One secretary of state’s office published previously on its website that one out of four documents received with a request for authentication of the notary’s status and signature  contained a notarial error. That’s why this message is critical, especially for new notaries who do not know about the authentication process.

List of Fatal Notarial Errors

According to the Notary Public Administrators’ Apostille Issuance Guidelines, a publication that I encourage notaries to read, there are several errors that will halt the issuance of the apostille. As noted above, these errors will likely result in notary sanctions.

Signature Problems

  • Notary’s signature does not match the one on file.
  • Notary’s signature is missing from the certificate.
  • Signer’s signature is missing from the document.

Problems with Notarial Duties

  • Notary performs an act that is not authorized by the notary’s state laws.

Problems with Copies Certified by a Notary

  • Certifying a copy when the same is not an authorized duty of a notary in that state.
  • Certifying a copy of vital record (e.g., birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license, etc.)
  • Certifying a copy of a document (e.g., copy of a transcript from a school or college)

Notarial Certificate Problems

  • No notarial certificate is printed on or attached to the document, but the notary’s seal and signature are visible on the document itself.
  • Notary’s seal is missing from the certificate.
  • Notary’s signature is missing from the certificate.
  • Notary’s certificate is incomplete (e.g. missing venue, date, name, type of act, or proper statutory language).
  • Date on the notary’s certificate is prior to the date of the signer’s signature.

Notary Seal Problems

  • Notary’s seal is missing altogether.
  • Notary’s seal is missing required elements.
  • Seal on the document does not match the seal for the commission in effect at the time of the notarization (e.g., different name of notary or expiration date).
  • Seal impression is not clear and complete.

Mistakes happen.  

Notaries seldom know when a document they’ve notarized will be sent to the notary’s state office with a request for an apostille.  

Please note that the first item listed above  is that the notary’s signature doesn’t match the one on file.  I wanted it at the top because a mismatching signature is an easy error to make for many people–it doesn’t mean the notary is ignorant of notarial laws and rules, just that there’s a change in the notary’s signature.  That could happen due to a condition, or perhaps the notary has had a name change and inadvertently signed the certificate using the wrong name.

The point is that mistakes occur.  When they do, having errors and omissions insurance is a great way to protect yourself and your assets.

If you have a topic for us, please post it in the comments below.  We appreciate you being a part of our readership!  

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Comments (2)

  • Carol Graff

    Brenda, excellent article as always! ALso, enjoyed what to carry in briefcase. Now I carry socks for my Asian clients homes! Great idea! Will be moving to Austin (from CA) probably in Sept. I have breast cancer so I need to get all of my treatments done first. Hope your family is doing better.

    May 30, 2019 at 12:15 pm
    • Brenda Stone


      I am sorry to hear of your illness. I hope your treatment goes well before you tackle a move.

      Thank you so much for your feedback and for letting me know you are heading to Austin soon. Please take care and thank you again for reading’s newsletter.

      Best, Brenda S.

      May 31, 2019 at 11:25 am

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