May I notarize a signature without the person being present if another person swears that the person signed the document?

No! The Notary Section receives frequent inquiries about "notarizing a person's signature by subscribing witness." Evidently, some notaries believe that it is permissible to notarize a signature when the person is not present if someone who witnessed the signing of the document appears before the notary and swears that the person actually signed the document. Some states, like California, do, in fact, allow such notarizations, but Florida does not. Misunderstanding may also stem from a section in Florida law that provides a method by which instruments concerning real property may be entitled to recording in Florida when the document signer cannot appear before a notary to acknowledge his or her signature. You may hear this procedure referred to as "proof of execution by subscribing witness."

We recently asked the leading experts in Florida about this issue. The Attorneys' Title Insurance Fund, Inc. is considered the state's foremost authority on matters related to the real estate industry. The following information should clarify any confusion which may exist on the subject.

First, this method is used only for acknowledgments on real estate transactions. Second, this is not an alternative method of notarization. The person whose signature is being notarized must personally appear before the notary at the time of the notarization without exception. Rather, this provision is a method by which a document can be recorded in Florida. For example, say a person signed a document related to a real estate transaction but did not acknowledge his signature before a notary public. Later, the document cannot be recorded by the county clerk because it lacks notarization. The problem is further complicated when the document signer cannot be located or is deceased. Florida law provides that one of the subscribing witnesses on the document may "prove" the execution of the document by swearing that the person did actually sign the document. With that sworn statement, the document may then be recorded.

The proof method is not commonly used. In fact, one experienced lawyer at Attorneys' Title Fund said that she had never seen a real property instrument recorded using this method and that, for insuring purposes, her company would investigate thoroughly before issuing title insurance. As a notary public, you will probably never encounter this situation. Generally, when there is a problem with the recording of a document, an attorney handles the matter and takes other legal steps to remedy the situation.

Some private companies produce form "certificates of proof." We prefer the affidavit format instead. By using an affidavit with a standard jurat, the notary will not be certifying more information than is required of the notary. It is up to the affiant to state the facts and swear to the truthfulness of his or her statement.

Remember then, if a coworker, family member, or anyone else asks you to notarize another person's signature based on a sworn statement that he or she saw the person sign the document, JUST SAY NO!!