Using Credible Witnesses

As a notary professional, you know your job is a critical one intended to help prevent fraud in certain transactions. You are an impartial witness to the execution of documents in situations where wrongdoing may otherwise occur, such as by the signatories misrepresenting their identity for personal gain. This is why part of the notary process is to verify identity by checking identification, according to the acceptable ID list under the laws of each state.

However, situations often arise where one or more of the signers of a document doesn’t have ID, and it’s either impossible or impractical to obtain it. You can’t expect an elderly or disabled person to go get a driver’s license or state-issued ID, especially when the individual’s physical condition results in immobility. So what do you do as a notary professional? The answer is using credible witnesses to verify the identity of the signatory, and here’s how you do it.

Credible Witness: The Basics

Definition & Qualifications

A credible witness is an individual who can legally vouch for the identity of the signer of a document when proper identification is not available. Essentially, a credible identifying witness serves as a human ID card that makes it possible for the notary public to properly execute documents in the absence of identification. Like many aspects of a notary public’s job, the specifics vary by state. However, there are some common factors among the different jurisdictions.

  • The Relationship Between the Signatory and Credible Witness: The credible identifying witness must be known to both the notary, the signatory, or both. The witness cannot have a financial interest in the document being executed, in order to avoid conflicts where the witness could misidentify the signer for purposes of personal gain.
  • Family Member Credible Identifying Witnesses: A family relationship between the credible witness and the signatory does not automatically disqualify the witness, as the key is impartiality. If the family member receives something of value pursuant to executing the document, he or she cannot act as a credible witness for identification purposes.
  • Proper Identification of Credible Witnesses: If the notary public personally knows the credible witness, no ID documents are necessary. However, in states that do not require the notary to know the credible witness, the person must provide identification. Acceptable forms of identification are the same as would be required by state law for the signatory: US passport, driver’s license, or state-issued ID, just to name a few.

 

Circumstances for Using a Credible Identifying Witness

There are a number of scenarios where using a credible witness would serve the purposes of a notary public. If a signer loses their ID or presents an unacceptable form upon signing, the notary could accept the verification of a credible witness; however, a credible witness should be used purely for convenience. Where it’s possible for the person to obtain an ID and executing the document is not an urgent matter, it’s a good practice to require them to do so.

The most common usage of a credible identifying witness is for elderly or disabled signatories, especially in assisted living facility settings. Where an individual doesn’t have ID because it’s impractical to obtain one due to mobility issues, a credible identifying witness can vouch for them.

 

Responsibilities of Notary Public in Using Credible Witnesses

States Allowing One Credible Witness: The credible witness must personally know the signatory and the notary must personally know the witness. This arrangement establishes a chain of personal knowledge such that there is reduced potential for fraud.

In these states, the notary should have the credible witness sign an affidavit stating:

  • The person appearing to sign a document is known to the credible witness and is the individual named in the document;
  • The credible identifying witness has good reason to believe that the signatory does not have an acceptable ID;
  • The credible witness believes that it would be impossible or impractical for the signer to obtain an ID within a reasonable amount of time;
  • The credible witness does not have a financial interest and is not a party to the arrangement detailed in the document being signed.

After the credible witness signs the affidavit, the signatory must swear under oath that the statements are true. Finally, the notary public should complete the affidavit by applying the notarial seal and other requirements under state law. The notary professional should also indicate on the document being signed that identification was made through a credible witness instead of by other means. The event should be noted in the notary’s journal for recordkeeping purposes, or if required by law.

 

States Allowing Two Credible Witness

In these states, both credible witnesses must have personal knowledge of the signatory and present acceptable forms of ID. Each of the credible identifying witnesses must complete the affidavit and swear under oath that the contents are true; afterwards, the notary public can apply the notarial seal and other requirements under state law. For recordkeeping or if required by law, the notary professional should note the transaction in the journal.

There are only eight states that permit usage of two credible identifying witnesses: California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico and Virginia.

 

Conclusion

Many notary professionals will face situations where the signatory to a document doesn’t have proper ID, but you do have options to ensure that execution of documents can still proceed. The key is to use a credible identifying witness to verify identity. One or two credible witnesses may be allowed under state law, and additional requirements vary according to state, so it’s important to know the laws governing notary requirements. If you need additional information on credible identifying witnesses, consult with a notary services organization that can tell you more about the process.


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