Where can I get a copy of the Executive Order with the Standards of Conduct for Notaries Public?
Please view this PDF version of Executive Order 455 issued by Governor Mitt Romney in 2004.
What is the purpose of the executive order?
Prior to the Executive Order, there had been virtually no guidance for Massachusetts notaries public about what to do and how to do it. The Executive Order provides that guidance.
Does the executive order change any statutes?
No. If there is a statutory requirement in place, the Executive Order does not change that requirement. For example, if a statute requires a certain type of certification for a document to be self-authenticating, the Executive Order does not change such a requirement.
Do I have to get a stamp or seal?
Notaries must have and use a stamp or seal. It can be either a black ink stamp, or a seal that makes an indentation on the paper. The stamp or seal must contain: (1) the notary public's name; (2) the words "notary public," "Commonwealth of Massachusetts" or "Massachusetts," and "my commission expires on" or "my commission expires" or "commission expires" (all of which indicate the commission expiration date); and (3) a facsimile of the great seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you are a current notary and have a seal that has all of this information except for the expiration date, you may obtain a black ink stamp that has your name and the expiration date. You then would use both the stamp and the seal each time you notarize a document.
Who is required to keep a journal?
All notaries public must keep a journal with the features described below unless the notary public is either: (a) an attorney licensed to practice in Massachusetts; or (b) an employee of an attorney who provides notary servicessolely in the context of his or her employment by an attorney. Exempt individuals are strongly encouraged to keep a journal even though they are not required to do so.. Maintaining a detailed, accurate journal provides protection for both the public and the notary should the accuracy of a notarization later be questioned.
What kind of journal do I need to keep?
The journal must be a bound book with sequentially numbered pages. A journal that has entries that are sequentially numbered will satisfy this requirement as well. The purpose of requiring a bound book is to prevent pages from being removed or altered. The book might be a special notary journal or a plain, bound book with sequentially numbered pages from a stationary store. Regardless of the kind of book you use, you must record all the information required by the Executive Order.
I am a notary public who often is involved in transactions such as closings that involve multiple documents signed by the same person. Do I have to record each individual document in the journal?
No. Section 11(c) (3) of the Executive Order specifically states that you may record as a single journal entry a transaction or proceeding that involves multiple documents signed by the same principal in the course of that transaction occurring on the same day. For example, if you notarize multiple documents at a corporate closing, you may include a single entry for each principal that describes the proceeding - "ABC and XYZ merger" - followed by the other information that is required by the Executive Order.
May non-attorney notaries public conduct real estate closings?
No. Conducting a real estate closing involves the practice of law in Massachusetts. Thus, non-attorney notaries public may not conduct real estate closings. A non-attorney notary public may, however, notarize a document that is later used in a real estate closing.
May an attorney charge for his or her legal work drafting a document that he or she also notarizes?
Yes. Notaries can charge no more than the statutory amount set forth in General Laws chapter 262, section 41 for performing a notarial act. However, an attorney or other professional may still charge a separate fee for document preparation or other professional services that are provided in conjunction with a document that is being notarized.
May I certify a copy of a passport or a driver's license?
May I notarize an undated document?
If there is a space for a date, or any other blank, it should be filled in with the correct date or lined through by the document signer. If the document simply doesn't have a date, it is acceptable to notarize it and record in your journal that the document has no date.
May I notarize a document in which I am named?
No. A notary may not notarize a document if he or she has a direct financial or beneficial interest in the transaction that the document is codifying. Being named in a document means that the notary may not act as an impartial party.
May I notarize a fax or a photocopy?
A photocopy or fax may be notarized, but only if it bears an original signature. That is, the copy must have been signed with an ink pen. A photocopied or faxed signature may never be notarized because the principal is not in the presence of the notary. Note that some public recorders will not accept notarized signatures on photocopied or faxed sheets because they will not adequately reproduce in microfilming. Also, if the document has been faxed on glossy fax paper, a copy should be made on bond paper and that copy then signed and notarized, as wording on glossy fax paper often fades. When carbon copies are made, the notary will sometimes be asked to conform rather than to notarize the copies. To conform a copy, the notary must reaffix the official seal on the copy (carbon will not readily transfer a seal impression) and write "Conformed Copy" prominently across the copy.
May I notarize a document with blank spaces?
No. A notary should skim the document for blanks and ask the document signer to fill them in. If they are intended to be left blank, then the signer can line through them or write "N/A".
Does a document have to be signed in my presence?
In order to witness a signature or perform a jurat, the principal must sign the document in the presence of a notary. If a document has been signed outside the presence of the notary, the notary may perform an acknowledgement of the signature as described in the Executive Order if the signer appears in person before the notary at the time of notarization to acknowledge that he or she freely signed for the purposes stated in the document. An acknowledgement certificate indicates that the signer personally appeared before the notary, was identified by the notary, and acknowledged to the notary that the document was freely signed. On the other hand, documents requiring a jurat must be signed in the notary's presence, as directed by the typical jurat wording, "Subscribed (signed) and sworn to before me…." In executing a jurat, a notary states that the signer, personally appeared before the notary, was given an oath or affirmation by the notary, and signed in the notary's presence.
May I complete certificate wording in blue ink or do I have to use black?
The notary should use a dark colored ink such as blue or black. Rarely, some receiving agencies may require the certificate to be filled out in a particular color. If so, the notary should comply.
The venue on the document is already completed with the wrong state and county. My signer says I can't change it. What do I do?
The document should not be notarized if the notary is not allowed to correct the wording. The venue is part of the notarial certificate, and regardless of the type of notarization, its accuracy is the notary's responsibility. Because the document is supposed to indicate where the notarization was performed, if the venue has already been completed incorrectly, it may be corrected by lining through the error, making the correction, and initialing the change.
I received a call requesting a photocopy of my journal entry. Should I comply?
Yes, you should comply if the following procedure is met. A person who wants to inspect or copy an entry in your journal must (1) demonstrate his or her identity through satisfactory evidence, (2) affix a signature in the journal in a separate, dated entry, and (3) specify the month, year, type of document, and name of the person for the notarial act or acts sought. The person may be shown only the entry or entries specified. However, if you have a reasonable and explainable belief that a person bears a criminal or harmful intent in requesting the information, you may refuse to provide access to any entry and be able to substantiate your belief.
May I notarize for a stranger with no identification?
Generally, no. When a document signer is not personally known to the notary and is not able to present reliable identification documents, that signer can be identified only on the oath or affirmation of a credible identifying witness. The word of a credible identifying witness is satisfactory evidence of identity and equivalent to personal knowledge. A credible identifying witness, often called simply "a credible witness," is like a human ID card that identifies the document signer. The credible identifying witness must personally know the document signer and must also be personally known by the notary. This establishes a chain of personal knowledge connecting the notary with the signer. For example, if a stranger without satisfactory identification requests a notarization, the notary need not turn this person away if the notary has a friend present who personally knows both the individual and the notary. The friend could serve as a credible identifying witness. By definition, a credible identifying witness is a believable person. A credible identifying witness should be honest, competent and impartial to the matter at hand. This means that the credible identifying witness should neither have a financial interest in a notarized document nor be named in it.
May I send an unattached, completed acknowledgment certificate to a title company to correct an error?
No, an executed certificate should never be sent or given to another party, trusting them to attach it to the correct document.
How do I correct a name that has been misspelled on the document and on the notarial certificate?
Only the document signer has authority to make any changes on the document; likewise, only a notary can correct the certificate. When you are correcting a notarial certificate, simply put a line through the mistake with ink, write the correction above or beside it, and initial and date the correction.
May I limit my notarial services to customers? To people I know personally? To business associates?
No. As public officials, notaries must serve anyone who makes a lawful and reasonable request for notarization.
What if I smear my seal on the document?
If there is room, affix a second impression nearby. It is not necessary to cross out the original seal impression or write an explanation on the document; the reason for the second impression will be obvious. If there is no room for a second impression, attach a separate certificate with the same wording, signature and a clear seal impression. Line through the original notarial wording and draw a line specifically through your seal and signature. Near that old certificate wording, write "See Attached Certificate."
May I notarize for a family member?
No. You may not notarize for your spouse, domestic partner, parent, guardian, child, or sibling, including those who are in-law, step, or "half relatives", unless: (1) you are an attorney licensed in Massachusetts; and (2) the document is a will or other legal document prepared that youprepared.
Why should I need an "apostille?"
An apostille, sometimes referred to as acertification or legalization, is often necessary for documents which leave the United States. Common types of documents which require certification for acceptance into a foreign country include documents for an international adoption, diplomas issued by an American college or university and various types of records and contracts integral to a company which does business in a foreign country.
Please be advised that certifications can only be obtained for documents with an original signature of a valid:
- Massachusetts notary public
- justice of the peace
- city/town clerk, or assistant
- court clerk, or assistant or
- Registrar of Vital Records.
Photocopied signatures which appear on a document cannot be certified. It is important to identify which country will receive the records since different countries require different types of certification. The certification forms are basically the same; however, the name of the certificate which is attached to a document going to a country which is a signatory to the Hague Convention is known as an Apostille. The regular certifications and apostilles are available at a cost of six dollars ($6.00) per signature to be certified.
An individual may receive the requisite certification by coming in person to the Commissions Section, Room 1719, One Ashburton Place, Boston, Massachusetts 02108, or by mailing the necessary documents to that address.
What are the appointments and terms of notaries public?
Notaries Public shall be appointed by the Governor in the same manner as judicial officers are appointed. Notaries shall hold their offices for seven years, unless sooner removed by the Governor with consent of the Governor's Council.
May I notarize a document written in a foreign language?
There is no law which says you may not notarize a document written in a foreign language. However, there are numerous potential problems including the fact that the term "notary public," when translated into other languages, can refer to a markedly different office, imbued with far greater authority than in the United States. For example, in certain Spanish speaking countries, the term "Notario Publico" refers to a person with authority similar to that of a U.S. attorney. A notary who has questions about a document written in a foreign language is encouraged to find another notary who understands the document (perhaps at a Consulate).
May I be appointed as a notary if I am not a citizen of the U.S.?
Yes. Legal U.S. residents who reside or conduct business in Massachusetts may apply for a notarial commission.
Do you have to be a resident of Massachusetts to become a notary public?
No. A person residing outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may apply for a notary commission if they work or do business in Massachusetts. However, notarial services must be conducted only within the borders of Massachusetts.
What if I move out of state during my term?
While moving out of Massachusetts does not automatically void a notary public commission, notaries should be aware that they may notarize documents only within the boundaries of the Commonwealth. A notary commission is renewable for a person who has moved outside the state if he continues to work or conduct business in the Commonwealth.
How do I renew my notary commission?
A renewal application will be mailed to a notary automatically from the Division of Public Records in the Office of the Secretary of State five weeks before a notary's commission is due to expire. The application must be completed and returned directly to the Notary Public Office, State House, Room 184, Boston, MA 02133. Then the applicant's name will be submitted to the Governor for reappointment, with the advice and consent of the Council. Once reappointed, the notary must again take the oath of office for the new appointment within 90 days in order for his or her commission to become valid. Be certain to notify the Division of Public Records at (617) 727-2836 if your address changes during your term to insure that your renewal application reaches you before your commission expires.
What happens if my commission expires before I have been reappointed and renew my oath?
Massachusetts law prohibits you from continuing to act as a notary public after your current commission has expired. Should you inadvertently notarize a document during this period; the Massachusetts Secretary of State can validate such an act to protect the integrity of your client's document by issuing a validation certificate from the Division of Public Records. For assistance in this area call (617) 727-2836.
What happens if I change my name?
You may continue to use your former name as a notary until your commission expires. However, if you intend to notarize using your new name, while in the term that began under a previous name, you must register your new name with the Secretary of State, using a re-registration form which can be obtained from the Division of Public Records (617-727-2836). Do not notarize any document in your new name until the re-registration certificate is issued to you. If you have notarized documents under your new name prior to receiving this certificate, these notarial acts must be validated by the Secretary of State as noted above.
Where may a notary obtain a seal?
Seals may be purchased from stationers and tool-and-die makers. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not offer notarial seals for sale nor does the Secretary of State endorse any specific vendor.
What are the duties of a notary at the end of the commission?
When a notary resigns or his or her commission expires or is revoked, the notary shall: (a) as soon as reasonably practicable, destroy or deface all notary seals and stamps so that they may not be used; and (b) retain the notarial journal and records for seven years after the date of expiration, resignation, or revocation.
Which office receives complaints against notaries?
There is no single state-wide office that receives complaints against notaries. Complaints involving forgery or identity theft are criminal in nature and should be made to a local police department or District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, notaries serve seven year terms and the Governor or Governor’s Council may choose not to renew a notary’s commission if the notary engages in official misconduct or is otherwise not suitable to serve as a notary public. Should you wish to oppose an individual notary’s re-appointment, you should send a written statement or, if applicable, a copy of your police report to the Governor's Legal Office, State House, Room 271, Boston, MA 02133.. Acopy of your correspondence should also be sent to the Notary Public Office: State House, Room 184, Boston, MA 02133.
How does the Governor’s Legal Office deal with complaints alleging misconduct by a notary?
Allegations of misconduct are handled on a case by case basis. Depending on the nature of the allegation, the matter may be referred to a law enforcement agency or may be resolved administratively. Allegations of misconduct are considered if a notary public applies for a renewal of his or her commission.
I have been given duplicate copies of a document, each to be notarized as an original. What fees do I charge?
You may charge for each original signature that you notarize, even if they are on identical documents, but you may choose to charge less. Refer to the statutory schedule of fees to determine the maximum fee per signature.
To obtain an application to become a Notary Public for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts you may download the required form .
Once you are appointed a Notary Public your commission will be valid for seven years.
To register a change of name for a notary public download at:
or call (617) 727-2836
Commission Renewal Near the end of your seven year term (approximately four weeks before the end of your appointment) the Secretary of State Office will send you a renewal form at the residential address you provided on your application seven years previously.