Sunday, May 18, 2014

To Journal or Not To Journal? That Is The Question.




At least that's the question every Alabama Notary must answer for him and herself.  Why?  You think the answer is obvious, right?  Well, it isn't in the State of Alabama.  You see, in Alabama, the Notary's role and responsibilities are outlined in the Code of Alabama.  And it doesn't matter whether you read the Code from ten years ago, or the Code as it is today after several changes, you won't find any mention of a Notary Journal being a requirement.  Whether this is an oversight on lawmakers' part, or not, many Notaries interpret this to mean that keeping a journal of their acts isn't require, or optional, at best.

When looking to notary laws in states like California, Maryland, New York, it's clear that a Journal is required.  Even our notary neighbors in Mississippi have rules that address journal keeping.  So you see, it isn't another one of those North vs. South things at all.  Mind you, Alabama isn't the only state that doesn't require its notaries to record their activities.  Lawmakers in the State of Florida have been considering making journals a requirement (HB 0407).  As of two weeks ago, it was announced that HB 0407 died before reaching the senate floor.  Ask Florida Notaries how they feel about the matter, and they seemed to be split - some for the requirement and others against it for different reasons.

For members of Notaries for Alabama, maintaining an official record of our actions makes good sense.  It is considered to be an industry best practice by the nation's largest notary association, the National Notary Association (NNA).  In their booklet, 12 Steps to a Flawless Notarization, the NNA writes, "A detailed journal of notarial acts is the Notary's best defense against lawsuits, because it can prove that Notary used reasonable care" (Page 34).

If this were a research paper I would need to go into explaining what reasonable care is...yada, yada.  But it isn't.  This is a blog and I've written way more than I had intended to write already.  Personally, on two separate occasions, I believe my Journal kept me from having to testify in court when documents notarized by me were later contested by the signer's family members.  My journal reminded me of the date, time, document, notarial act, and signer identification info.  For one entry, I had even included notes of comments made by the signer that reassured me, at the time, that he knew full well what he was doing.  Once I shared this information with the attorneys, in writing and verbally, it was decided there was no need for me to appear in person for any other part of the hearings.

Maintaining a Journal causes the notary to slow down and record information each time he/she applies the seal to a document.  It prompts or reminds the notary to examine the signer's identification and record the the ID #. The journal prompts notaries to indicate whether the act he/she is performing is a Jurat or Acknowledgement - which in turn serves as a reminder (when appropriate) to place the signer under Oath. Trust me, I had no desire to spend time at a courthouse, sitting in a witness chair answering questions about an appointment that happened nearly a year earlier.

A Journal is one of the first things that the Notary's insurance company will ask about when it receives a claim naming the Notary in a lawsuit.  Members of Notaries for Alabama will learn more about this on September 18th when a representative from an Alabama insurance agency will speak to the group on "Notary Bond and Error and Omissions Insurance:  What Every Notary Should Know, But Doesn't".

For me, the decision is an easy one.  I've never been one to gamble and my luck so far has been mediocre.  I will continue to maintain a Journal whether the State of Alabama requires it or not.  Notaries for Alabama considers journalkeeping to be a wise decision and it is strongly encouraged.  This is what we teach in our training classes (Notary Basics:  Training for Alabama Notaries).  This is what we promote each and every time we have the opportunity to do so.  What's your decision?

If you're an Alabama Notary and would like to attend our networking meetings in and around central Alabama, or learn more about proper notarization techniques through formal training, contact our group by visiting our websites, or by calling or emailing us:  (205) 626-9399 and Notaries4Alabama@Gmail.com. We'd love to connect with you.  You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Do you know an Alabama Notary who could benefit from training?  If so, Notary Basics:  Training for Alabama Notaries will be conducted on Friday, June 27th from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the Homewood Public Library.  The fee is $35.  For more information or to register, send us an email or check us out here.