The notary journal is a vital asset to every notary public. It provides the permanent written record of the notary’s official acts. Notarized documents may be lost, destroyed, or challenged, yet the journal remains as the definitive proof that a document was executed on a certain date by a certain person. The notary journal offers proof, protection, and prevention against fraud for notaries and the public they serve. Every court in this country recognizes a notary’s journal as prima facie evidence that what is recorded therein is an accurate record of what occurred. As a notary, you are expected to be able to credibly testify as to the circumstances surrounding every notarial act you perform, even years after the notarization took place. Your journal is the contemporaneous documentation that supports your testimony. Notaries have always been required to create such a record under the common law theory of reasonable care; in 2009 the Montana Legislature codified this responsibility and enumerated the information that Montana notaries are expected to record in their journals.
By law, the notary journal is the property and responsibility of the notary public, regardless of who paid for it and it is the notary’s duty to keep and maintain a journal for as long as he or she holds a commission. Upon the notary’s resignation, retirement, or death, the journal(s) must be turned into the office of the Clerk and Recorder in the county where the notary last resided.
The Secretary of State has not defined a specific format for the Notary Journal. You may choose the design that fits your particular demands best. There are several designs on the market; all of them include spaces for the information required by Montana law. Below are illustrations of two popular types of journals – the linear style and the block style – that show how the mandated information should be entered in your journal for each notarial act you perform:
Linear Style – each entry is recorded on one line across both sides of the book. Generally the printed name, address, and signature of the signer are in the middle so that it is impossible to remove or add a page to the book, making it highly tamper-proof.
Block Style – each entry is recorded within a defined, usually numbered, block. The specific designs of this type of journal will vary, but all will contain space for the necessary information, including the signature of the signer(s).
- Date Notarized: This is the date on which you actually perform the notarization; it may or may not be the same as the date of document. You may never pre- or post-date a notarial act.
- Type of Notarial Act: You only have seven possibilities: an ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, a SIGNATURE, a JURAT, an OATH, a CERTIFIED COPY, a DEPOSITION, or a PROTEST OF INSTRUMENT (The last two require additional training and are not used by most notaries).
- Date of Document: This date can be the date the document was issued or the date it was signed and is usually printed on the document before it is signed. If no date appears on the document, you may consider the date of notarization as the date of the document. Documents which are acknowledged may have been signed on a different date than the day they are notarized.
- Type of Document(s): This can be a very generic term of art (i.e., “contract”, “motion”), a form number, or a short description of the document. The signer must be able to explain to you what type of document is being signed if it is not obvious to you. If more than one document is being notarized, you must list each type or identifying group and how many documents are in the group (i.e., 3 trust docs – file # K12345.)
- Type of ID: Again, your possible entries are limited. If you know the signer well, enter PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE; if you are relying on satisfactory evidence, you should just enter the ISSUING ENTITY AND TYPE OF DOCUMENT; and finally, if you rely on a CREDIBLE WITNESS your journal should reflect that you performed two separate notarial acts, including the oath of the credible witness and the acknowledgement, signature, or jurat of the signer. The linear style books will have two separate entries: one for the signer and one for the credible witness. Block style books usually provide for the credible witness’ signature in the same block as the signer’s.
- The Printed Name, Signature, And Address of the Signer: The absolutely most important entry in the journal. This proves that the signer was in your physical presence at the time the notarization was performed. The signer should complete this section without assistance; however the notary may enter the address and printed name if the signer is having difficulty writing. The signature MUST be made by the signer!
- Other Information: Use this space to include any information that may be pertinent to the situation. It is especially helpful to note anything usual or additional that occurred or was a part of the transaction.
- Number of Documents: If more than one document was signed by the same person at the same time you may record them together, but you must indicate how many documents there were in the group.