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Getting paid in the construction industry is hard enough. Don’t let avoidable notarization mistakes get in the way of your path to payment. This article will give you all the tips and tricks you need to know to ensure your documents are properly notarized when it comes time to file your lien claims.

What Exactly is Notarization, and Why Might You Need It?

What exactly is notarization? Notarization is like a security check for important documents. When you need a legal document certified, acknowledged, sworn to, etc., a notary public steps in to ensure everything is legit.

Getting a document notarized is a three-step process. The notary will:

  1. Check the IDs of everyone signing the document to ensure they are who they say they are and to avoid fake signatures.
  2. Watch as the document is signed to ensure everyone understands what they’re signing and does it willingly.
  3. Sign and stamp the document, verifying that they have followed steps 1 and 2.

It boils down to this: Notarization helps prevent fraud and confirms that all parties to the document are making informed, voluntary decisions.

The specific notary acknowledgment requirements will vary depending on the state and even the specific county office. While there are expanding opportunities to use electronic signatures and remote online notaries, it’s always a good idea to do some research and make sure the county office you’re filing in will accept that type of notarization.

For more information about online remote notarization, check out Levelset’s article Options for Notarizing Mechanics Liens & Waivers Remotely.

Why might you need it? Many, though not all, states require specific recorded or filed documents, like lien claims, to be notarized. For a full breakdown of state-by-state and county-by-county notary requirements, check out Levelset’s Construction Payment Learning Center and our comprehensive list of County Recorders Offices.

Clerk Rejections

Anyone who’s ever had to draw a number at the DMV knows how frustrating it can be to wait around for hours only to be sent to the back of the line because you didn’t realize you were missing or forgetting something important. Unsurprisingly, the county clerks in charge of filing your claims can be just as painstakingly particular and perfectionistic (try saying that five times fast) when reviewing your documents.

As a result, just getting construction documents recorded with the appropriate clerk’s office can slow down the payment process and cause additional headaches. You can read more about Common Reasons Mechanics Liens Are Rejected or Essential Questions to Ask the County Recorder Before Filing a Lien, but incompletely or incorrectly notarized documents present their own, often overlooked, challenges to successfully filing.

In an effort to better understand the nuances of individual county clerk notarization requirements, Levelset has collected examples from various clerks across the country to give you a better idea of what to look out for when you get your claims notarized.

Real-world examples of rejections for notarization errors

“Signature and acknowledgment must correspond; acknowledgment incomplete (date).”

“Name of each person purporting to execute the instrument is legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped beneath their original signature or mark of the person MCL 565.201 Sec 1 (a); The date in which a notary public commission expires must be stated; The name of the notary public is legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped on the instrument and appears on the same page near the signature of the notary public MCL 565.201 Sec 1c”

“Seal is illegible and must be re-stamped.”

“Missing the notary public stamp.”

“Name of notary must match notary seal.”

“The printed name in the signature block does not match the name in the body of the acknowledgement.”

“The notary is wrong; the notary wrote in his name where the signer’s name should appear in the acknowledgement.”

So, in a race against time, where anything from margin spacing to a missing page can be enough for a clerk to send you back to the starting line, how can you make sure that the notary acknowledgment isn’t contributing to the problem? Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most common notarization mistakes and how to avoid them and continue to set yourself up for success.

4 Common Notarization Pitfalls

There’s a saying those of you in the construction industry might already be familiar with, “Measure twice, cut once.” Taking some extra time to double-check your work won’t just save you on the job site, but it might also save your lien claim during the notarization process.

1. Name Mismatches

The name of the person signing the document should match the name on the form of government-issued identification they provide the notary. They should be consistent if signed or printed multiple times throughout the document.

Similarly, if the notary public must sign or print their name, it should match exactly the name represented in their stamp or seal.

For example, if the notary stamp reads F. Scott Fitzgerald, the notary’s printed name and signature should also read F. Scott Fitzgerald, not Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, Francis Fitzgerald, etc.

→ Takeaway: What’s in a name? Everything! Consistency is key!

2. Date Mismatches

Part of a notary’s job is to protect the authenticity of the document they are notarizing. This includes certifying the document was signed on the date it was actually signed.

→ Takeaway: Don’t turn your paper over until your teacher says, “Start.” Signing or dating the document before you appear before the notary defeats the purpose of the notary.

3. Incomplete Documents

Notarizing a construction document can feel like a high-stakes game of Mad Libs when figuring out which blanks to fill in and whose name goes where. It’s important to remember that every lien claim or release is not created equal and that certain states and counties will have different requirements. Your notary should be able to help you navigate the specifics of your situation, but below, we’ve highlighted some common areas on a document that might require your attention.

  • A preparation statement: Some states require the person who prepared the instrument to execute their signature on said instrument right at the top.
    • Example: Document prepared by:  __________________________________ (Signature) and signed by: __________________________________ (Print Name)
  • Dates: The date the document is signed and executed in front of the notary.
  • Witness Signatures: Some states, like Florida and South Carolina, require additional witness signatures on certain documents to verify the identity of the authorized agent or claimant executing the document. If that notary is notarizing the document, then the notary shouldn’t also serve as the witness on the document.

→ Takeaway: A good general rule of thumb is that a document will likely not have any blank spaces after it’s been executed. It’s just like Taylor Swift says, “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”

4. Illegible Text and Notary Stamps

Make sure that any printed names, signatures, and stamps on the document are legible, readable, and, this is especially important in today’s online work, photographically reproducible. If the notary’s stamp or seal is smudged or too faint, have them affix a readable second stamp or seal. A red or green stamp may evoke a sense of holiday cheer, but in reality, it very rarely remains readable when scanned or photocopied by a clerk. When in doubt, stick with a classic blue or black inked stamp or pen.

It may seem obvious, but sometimes, we just can’t read the writing on the wall or the paper. No one wants their lien claim rejected because a county recording office can’t tell a “n” from an “m.”

→ Takeaway: When in doubt, spell it out more clearly and ideally in blue or black ink.

Helpful Resources to Get You Started

The good news when it comes to getting your documents notarized is that it’s an open-book test, and you can and should use all your available resources!

The National Notary Association has a plethora of guides for notaries and signers alike.

Still trying to figure out where to start? The next best step may be finding a notary in your area who can guide you through the process. FindaNotary can connect you to a mobile notary or a walk-in service near you.

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