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California Notary Laws: What's Changed for 2016?

New Type of Legal Identification Accepted

California Civil Code section 1185 spells out just which forms of identification are acceptable for the notary public to use in making this determination. In 2016, a new form of ID has been added to this list: Inmate identification.

Any individual wishing to use this form of identification to prove his or her identity must present the notary with a document that is current or has been issued within the past five years by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A county sheriff's department-issued ID document may also be accepted for inmates in one of California's county detention facilities.

Section 1185 also allows the following forms of identification:

  • An ID card or driver's license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles
  • A U.S. passport

In addition, these identification documents issued within the past five years with a photo, a valid signature and a unique identification number may also be accepted:

  • An ID card or driver's license from a state other than California
  • A foreign passport stamped by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • A military ID (some may not have the required information)
  • An employment ID card issued by the state of California or a city or county in the state.

Because they do not have all the required information or lack a photo, Social Security cards and voter registration cards are not valid ID. Student identification cannot be used either, as it is difficult to determine its authenticity.

A notary public who fails to confirm the identity of signatories to a legal document may be subject to fines up to $10,000, so it is important to understand exactly what types of identification are considered valid.

Electronic Signature Defined

Although it makes a less direct impact on most notary publics, the California legislature also approved a bill that became law on Jan. 1, 2016, that defines an electronic signature.

The California Code of Civil Procedure now spells out that an official signature can be an electronic signature or a signature affixed by mark. This primarily impacts court documents, where a court or judicial officer can use an electronic signature and it will be considered equally valid as an original signature.

According to the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, an electronic signature can be a digital "sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with an electronic record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record." California has incorporated this definition into state law to be consistent.

When verifying legal documents, a notary public may then use an electronic signature that meets these requirements. The notary's digital signature must have all the same information that would normally accompany a paper-and-ink signature, such as seal information and commission expiration date.

Other Changes to the Law

Two minor changes to California state law may impact notary publics.

  1. An owner of real property can transfer that property when he or she dies via a revocable transfer on death deed. This deed must be acknowledged before a notary.
  2. A former judge or justice who is retired by the Supreme Court may still administer oaths and affirmations, if certified by the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP). Such an oath or affirmation may be considered valid by a notary.

These changes are unlikely to impact most notary publics, but it's useful to be aware that they have been made for this year.

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