New Notary Act Has Some Teeth

April 30, 2004
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A statute that took effect last month changes several regulations concerning notaries public in Michigan.

Among other things, it prohibits service for relatives and imposes civil and criminal penalties for violations.

The law, which passed in the legislature late last year and took effect April 1, was designed to streamline the application process. It also extends the length of new appointments by two years, and creates an education and training fund from a portion of the fees collected by the state and county clerks.

“Notaries are an integral part of the fight to combat fraud by helping to ensure that transactions are performed in an ethical and honest manner,” Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said.

“This law will help to improve the quality and uniformity of notary services in Michigan,” she added.

Yet there are some uncertainties with the law that could cause problems.

For one, the law states that notaries may not perform an act on a record that contains a blank space.

The problem stems from clauses in the law that leave the term “blank space” undefined, said Jeff Gifford, a lawyer with the Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett law firm.

Quite often dates are left off of documents that need notarizing and are filled in later, Gifford said.

And there’s the potential for inconvenience or problems with documents requiring the signatures of two parties who are in different locations, which means one of the signature lines is left blank when the other is notarized.

“It raises all sorts of interesting issues,” he said.

“It’s certainly going to make things more cumbersome.”

Among the other key changes in the law:

  • People applying for appointment as a notary public must apply at a Secretary of State branch office, rather than through a county clerk;

  •  A notary public’s commission will expire on his or her birthday between six and seven years from the date of appointment. That lengthens the commission term from four and five years;

  • A notary may charge up to $10 per act. Notaries previously were limited to charges of $2 per act and 50 cents for copying and serving;

  • A notary may not perform an act for a spouse, domestic partner, descendant or sibling;

  • It allows notaries to register a change of address with the state, rather than cancel an existing appointment and re-file for a new one when they move to another county; 

  • It sets administrative sanctions for misconduct;

  • It allows for a $1,000 civil fine for a person who engages in conduct the law prohibits;

  • It makes it a felony to perform a notarial act after a person’s commission is revoked, punishable by a fine of $3,000 and up to five years in prison.

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