When to Use "Personal Knowledge" to Identify a Signer


Within most states, notaries wield three avenues for establishing the identity of signers. These methods encompass:


Scrutinizing a state-issued identification card.

Leaning on their own familiarity with the signer's identity.

Employing a reputable witness to validate the signer's identity.


Though relying on an identification card stands as the prevalent means of confirming a signer's identity, instances may arise where a signer lacks proper identification. In such scenarios, a notary might resort to employing personal knowledge for identification purposes; however, prudence is paramount. It becomes crucial to comprehend what constitutes personal knowledge to avoid infringing upon notarial responsibilities or inadvertently engaging in fraudulent activities.


Save for California, all states endorse the utilization of "personal knowledge" to verify a signer's identity, yet the regulations may diverge across jurisdictions. It is advisable to consult your state's notary regulations prior to proceeding. Nonetheless, even after perusing the stipulations, queries may persist due to the absence of a standardized definition for "personal knowledge." The question arises: to what extent must you be acquainted with the signer to exercise this identification method?


Perhaps the simplest approach is to begin by identifying what does not qualify as personal knowledge. You do not possess personal knowledge of the signer if:


Your acquaintance with them is recent.

Your interactions have solely transpired online or through telecommunication, without any in-person meetings.

You are reliant on another individual's assertion of the signer's identity. (In such a case, you might involve a credible witness, yet your personal knowledge of the signer remains insufficient, necessitating identification through alternative means before involving the credible witness.)


Before leaning on the personal knowledge approach to establish identity, think about the following questions:


How extensive is your familiarity with this individual? Has the connection spanned years or mere days? A superficial association does not meet the requisites for employing "personal knowledge" to confirm identity.

Do you share mutual acquaintances who can corroborate the person's identity? Shared colleagues, neighbors, or friends with mutual contacts can bolster your confidence in their identity.

How well-acquainted are you with this person's background? If your knowledge is confined to their name, soliciting an identification document is prudent. Yet, if you've enjoyed a long-standing friendship or professional rapport, you likely possess substantial information about them.

How certain are you that this individual is indeed who they profess to be? Full confidence is imperative before proceeding with notarization.

Does the relationship involve close family ties? If so, while extensive knowledge about the individual might exist, caution is advised. Certain states prohibit notarizing documents for immediate family members like spouses, parents, or children. Even in jurisdictions where such notarization is permitted, it is essential to ensure no personal stake exists in the document being notarized.


In the event of any uncertainties regarding the signer's identity, it is advisable to request identification or rely on the testimony of a credible witness. The preservation of your standing as a notary is not worth jeopardizing for the sake of expediency, even in the face of external pressure. As always, referencing your state's notary regulations is vital for further guidance or clarification.


Legal Disclaimer: The Spokane Notary Group endeavors to furnish accurate and current information within our blog postings. However, it is imperative to recognize that the content provided in our blogs are intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. We do not hold ourselves out as attorneys, and we make no warranties regarding the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented. It is strongly advised that you seek the counsel of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. Under no circumstances shall the Spokane Notary Group, its employees, or contractors be held liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses arising in connection with the use of the information contained in our blogs. This includes, but is not limited to, direct or indirect losses, as well as consequential losses. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the applicable notary laws governing your state. Notaries are encouraged to consult with their state's notary authorities or legal professionals if they have inquiries of a legal nature. In the event that any portion of this disclaimer is deemed unlawful or unenforceable by a court or other competent authority, the remaining sections of this disclaimer shall remain in full force and effect