Notaries are officials licensed by state and local governments to impartially witness the signing of important documents. It can be challenging to remain impartial while dealing with family members, so how do you know if you can notarize a document for a relative? It depends on the state you’re in, your relationship to the family member and whether there’s a conflict of interest involved.
Most state notary laws don't outright prohibit notarizing documents for family members, but a few states do have restrictions in place for certain familial relationships. Above all, notaries must remain impartial and free from conflicts of interest.
Relationship to the Family Member
In a few states, you are prohibited from notarizing documents for most family members. This sometimes includes even step- and half-relatives. In some other states, only close family members are off-limits. In Oregon and North Dakota, for example, you may not notarize a document for your spouse. Florida takes its rules a bit further and bans notarizing for your spouse, parents or children.
The remaining states have no restrictions placed on notarizing for family members. A few, such as California and Washington, do caution against the practice. These states leave it up to you to asses the situation to ensure you’re following appropriate law. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with your state’s notary laws to avoid problems. It could save you a lot of time and trouble in the future.
Notaries must avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Just because your state law doesn’t explicitly prohibit you from notarizing a family member's signature doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. Notary laws generally prohibit you from performing your duties if you will personally gain or benefit from notarizing a document. Similarly, if you have any involvement whatsoever in the document, it is best to refuse to notarize it.
Regardless of your state's law, best practice codes often encourage you to decline notarizing for close relatives or family members. These codes ask you to avoid any situation in which you could appear to have a conflict of interest or be partial to one or more of the parties to the document. If you are planning to notarize a document for a spouse or other close family member, ask yourself if you stand to benefit from the transaction. You may benefit even if your name isn’t on the document you're notarizing. For example, let’s say your spouse is applying for a loan. Your name may not be included on the loan documents, but you still stand to materially benefit if the loan is approved. This type of situation raises the question of a potential conflict of interest and should be avoided.