10 Questions To Ask Before You Take a General Notary Assignment

Feb 04, 2020

Hi, this is Laura with CoachMeLaura.com and At Your Service Mobile Notary.

Today I want to chat with you a little bit about general notary appointments. There are questions that you should be thinking of when you get that phone call to take an appointment! 

As you know, loan signings are different. You get the documents ahead of time so you know what you have before you get there. The fees are already arranged. You're told who the signer is. Pretty much, you usually get most of the information you need.

When you have a general appointment, meaning somebody from the public who's calling for your service, you may not get everything you need unless you ask. So I have about 10 questions that may apply in any given situation to ensure that one, you don't make a wasted trip, two, you've negotiated the appropriate fee and quoted the appropriate fee for that client. And three, if there's going to be any extra things necessary, like witnesses for signature by mark or credible witnesses for ID that you can prepare the signer so that the appointment goes smoothly.

So let's start with number one. The first thing is if I'm not speaking with the signer myself, I need to ask how many signers are there and will all the signers be present when I arrive? That's important for me to know. One, when I'm thinking about how many notarizations I may have to perform and two if I'm told, 'well no, the other one is, you know, out of the country or in another state', I realize that I'm just taking care of part of the assignment.

Another thing that's important is to find out what kind of document it is. Is it ready? Have they prepared it already? So all that needs to happen is a signature upon my arrival.

I like to ask what kind it is because some documents I know like powers of attorney have witnessing requirements and that's going to give me an opportunity to say, 'are you going to have witnesses there for the witnessing part.' So that is a really good heads up. If you are familiar also Last Will and Testament documents, those are witnessed by two people who are not related to the signer. They're impartial, number one. Number two, they're not generally notarized. Two witnesses is what's needed in most States. There's only a couple out there that require a notarization and typically even that notarization isn't the Last Will. It is an addendum document or a document related to the Will - maybe called the Self-proving Affidavit or an Attestation Clause where the Will maker and the signers all sign it saying they signed in front of each other and the notary notarizes all three. So unless you have that extra document, you won't even need notary services for that, but the public doesn't understand that. That's why I need to ask a little bit about these documents. 

Another thing would be just witnesses in general. If we need additional people there for whatever the reason, for example they don't have ID, so they need to be credible witnesses, the document is requiring the witness, then it's good to give them a heads up about what kind of witness they're going to need. If it's for notary purposes, then you need to identify them. But if it's just a document witness where they're signing, 'they saw' and it wasn't your requirement, then you don't need the ID from those people.

Let's talk about ID for your signer. A really important question is: does the signer have valid photo ID? And then I ask what kind is it you plan to present to me? Because depending on your state, sometimes the photo ID they want to present isn't on your list of IDs. You may be in a state where it just says photo or a signature and that's great. Then you're probably going to be just fine. But in the States where they have some kind of list you want to verify, it's going to be on there. Now, if I'm not talking to the signer - where they're saying it's for my mom and that may be an elderly client, then there's more likely an issue with ID. So I want to make sure I take care of that. But there could be an issue with alertness and awareness. So when I'm asked by an elderly signer that sounds a little shaky on the phone, or I'm being contacted by family for their parents or grandparents, or I'm going to be in a hospital environment, skilled nursing environment, assisted living environment, I automatically ask, 'is my signer alert and aware, can my signer sign their name unassisted?'

Because if they can't, and we have to do a signature by mark, again, you might need witnesses depending on your state for that. So it's important to find out right up front what's going to happen.

Now, fees. It's important that you quote your fees upfront. So how do you know what it's going to be? Well, I always start with the maximum allowed to charge for a notarization. So for me, for instance, it's $15 per signature notarized plus the travel fee. So let's talk about that travel fee. Some states, and there are only a few, have a big restriction like North Carolina, five bucks, that's. It doesn't matter how far away they are. So you don't have a lot of play there. Maryland also I think has a maximum fee as well. Some States charge mileage, they'll let you do that. Arizona for instance you can charge 44 and a half cents reimbursement for mileage and that's based on the Arizona state employees reimbursement schedule, not the federal schedule.

If you're in a state like mine, California - where it's not regulated, I can charge a flat fee based on how much time I think it's going to take for me to get there. So I start with a base fee, meaning you're just in my town. I probably don't need to go more than 10 or 15 minutes in one direction to get to you and come back. So in that case, I'm going to have my basic minimum fee.

Every area of the state, and in every state, that's going to be a little different what I can charge for travel. Let's just say, for example, maybe that's $25 to stay across town, but if I was in San Francisco, $25 probably isn't going to cut it. I may have to hit a bridge, I may have to pay for parking. There's a lot of other costs, particularly involved in certain areas. So in that case - you need to charge appropriately for you.

Then there might be extra fees. So let's talk about what would those be. What if you go to a hospital and one, you have to park in the parking structure. Two, you've got to walk over to the hospital, then you've got to go through a sign-in procedure, then you've got to go up the elevator or wherever to find the patient. Then you get there only to see that the nurses are taking vitals. So you've got to wait for that to finish. Now you've added another 10 minutes or so to your travel time. And that might be called processing time or wait time. Sometimes I get started and the doctor comes in cause he's making rounds - and I can't say, 'sorry doctor, I'm in the middle of a notarization come back later.' That's not how it works. You're going to need to step out. So they have privacy and allow the doctor that five or 10 minute conversation. So there's some extra wait time.

And finally I've had it where I've been at a hospital and then technicians come up to go take them away for some kind of an EKG or MRI - and they could be gone 30 minutes. There's wait time. So it doesn't all happen at the same time, but different appointments may have that. Therefore, I let them know, 'let's make an appointment when you don't think anything is happening. Let's stay away from lunch. Let's stay away from shift change. If you know you're scheduled for any kind of procedure, let's stay away from that.'.

Another environment that may have these issues are jails. So I know I'm going to have 30 to 45 minutes wait time or processing time - that's waiting after I check in for an escort by a deputy. Then I've got to go through the metal detector and all that process. And then I've got to walk the jail - and these are big jails! So there's a lot of walking. (I get my 10,000 steps that way). Then I finally get to them.

They've got to go get the guy out of his cell into the common area, then to move over to the interview room where I'm going to handle him. So there's a lot of stuff going on. Then I've spent 10 minutes with the guy, right? So I know I've got an hour going there. Plus I've got, let's say - I have 20 minutes getting there and 20 minutes getting back. So I'm in it an hour and 40 minutes. So I need to charge not only my regular travel fee, but wait and processing fees to make it worth it for me to handle that appointment.

Then let's talk about what happens if the notarization fails. What if the ID turns out not to be valid, but they thought it was? What if it turns out they can't sign their name and you don't have witnesses and things can go wrong. They're not alert and aware when you get there. These are all things that can happen when you're dealing with special situations like hospitals or skilled nursing or assisted living, or even going to a private home where the family member made the appointment. You didn't ever get to talk to the signer first. So if the appointment fails, that's a business decision for you.

Now, I will tell you, you cannot take money for notarization if you didn't notarize anything, but you can charge for the travel fee for coming there. So you might say, 'Hey, you're still gonna pay me the $25 or $35, because my gas and my time's already invested!

You might say, 'I tell you what, I am going to charge you for that, but if you call me back when we can do it, I will recharge you or I'll charge you only half or only charge you for the notarization fee.' Or you can decide if it's beyond their control, and sometimes that happens - It's not their fault exactly. Then I might waive the travel fee altogether and make another appointment to come back when it can be handled completely.

So think about it in terms of a business decision. What do you think is going to work well? I'm going to tell you - I base it on the situation I'm in and whose fault was it. If it was my own fault, because I forgot to ask them about the ID, then you know what, I suck it up. If they told me they had valid ID and they checked it and it was correct, then I tell them, okay, if I get there and the ID doesn't work, I want you to know you'll still be charged.

So as long as you give them notice up front of what could happen, if it does not go through then you're in good stead to charge it if you so choose. And some of you may actually book appointments automatically with a scheduling software and there might be a place that warns them, 'look, if I come out there, I'm getting paid regardless.' Just know - you may not charge the notarial fee if you did not perform notarial work. This is important. Call it a trip fee, Okay?

Those are the things that I think about and ask when I'm accepting an appointment for general work. Because there are a lot of unknowns and this is kind of like a grab bag. You're not sure what you're going to get when you take on one of these appointments. So the best way is to demystify it is to have a good sense of how far you gotta go, how long might you be there? Is it one notarization or is it five or six notarizations that's going to make a difference on your scheduling and your availability. Appointments that are 30 minutes away versus 10 minutes away.

I use these appointments all day long. It used to be as filler between loan signing appointments because I don't do as many loan signing appointments anymore - they ARE my appointments! I usually do the little ones in between my trust appointments because those are my big ones that that's what really replaced most of my loan signings. But if you make a checklist for yourself, and every time you get a call for a general notary appointment, ask these questions and you will have less failed appointments. You will be paid appropriately instead of underquoting the job. And you will feel confident and competent about the job that you accomplish.

I hope these questions will help you feel more encouraged to take on general notary appointments. I have in depth skill builders on my video library for each of these if you want more information. Go to CoachMeLaura.com

Until the next time, make it a good one. Bye.




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