Establishing Identity With Credible Witnesses

Credible Witnesses

© 2010 Kim Giancaterino. All Rights Reserved.

What to Do When the Signer Has No ID

Suppose you have a relative who needs to have a power of attorney document notarized, and you’re the person who will be assuming that responsibility. According to California law, if a signer doesn’t have a valid form of identification, it will be necessary for that person’s identity to be established by the oaths of two credible witnesses.

My pet peeve as a notary is dealing with signers who don’t have proper identification. In addition to being annoying and inconvenient for all parties, the lack of valid identification creates undue stress for signers. Typically these are senior citizens who no longer drive or travel.

When someone calls to book an appointment on behalf of an elderly friend or family member, I always try to verify that the signer has a valid form of identification. Despite these efforts, I’ve arrived at several appointments only to find that the ID is expired, or that they expect me to accept a photocopy from the signer’s “file.”

I have to explain, often amid protests, that the law is clear about establishing a signer’s identity. Then it becomes a mad scramble assembling friends to vouch for the signer. These situations are always stressful for elderly and housebound signers who feel punished by the rules.

Believe it or not, I’ve encountered a few signers who haven’t maintained a valid form of identification for more than 20 years. Yet somehow they’re able to write checks and conduct business in their day-to-day lives. However, it becomes an issue when someone without proper identification needs to have a document notarized.

Credible Witnesses
Before the oaths are administered, credible witnesses must present valid forms of identification as required by law, such as a driver’s license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles or a U.S. passport.

Credible Witnesses

Under oath, the credible witness must swear or affirm that each of the following statements is true:

  1. The individual appearing before the notary public as the signer of the document is the person named in the document.
  2. The credible witness personally knows the signer.
  3. The credible witness reasonably believes the circumstances of the signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for the signer to obtain another form of identification.
  4. The signer does not possess any of the identification documents authorized by law to establish the signer’s identity.
  5. The credible witness does not have a financial interest and is not named in the document signed.

A credible witness must sign the notary journal and present a valid form of identification. I’ve done many signings this way and everything goes smoothly if the credible witnesses are in place with proper identification at the appointed time.

Maintain a Valid ID

Of course, you’re the one in control if you have a valid form of identification at all times. I always praise my non-driving clients who possess an up-to-date Senior Citizen identification card or other acceptable form of identification.

There is an exception to the scenario outlined above. If a signer’s identity can be established by a credible witness whom a notary knows personally, the law only requires one credible witness. So it definitely pays to count a notary among your friends!

Credible Witnesses

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2021 Notary Public Handbook (Secretary of State)

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