As a notary, you may travel to many different locations, each with their own unique circumstances and challenges. For example, one common location for notarizations is a medical facility. If you are performing a notarization in a medical facility such as a hospital, long term care facility or hospice care, your signer is much more likely to be in a state that impedes your ability to be certain if they are alert and aware enough to be signing documents. So, how can you be confident that signing the documents is what the signer truly wants, and they are fully aware of what they are signing?
Start with the assumption they are alert and aware. Then look for behavior of the signer that is contrary to that. Do they seem confused or out of sorts? Look for signs that the signer is unable to communicate clearly. Can the signer speak directly to you, or does a family member seem to be doing all the talking? Make sure you have a direct, clear line of communication with your signer without the interference of others in the room. At the same time, be sure you aren’t setting the bar too high for your client’s behavior; you would not want to decline a reasonable request from the public. Your signer has been admitted to a medical facility, so of course they aren’t going to be operating at one hundred percent and may be lethargic or otherwise not their best self. The most important things to be sure of are that the signer knows who they are, knows their relationship to others in the room, are reasonably coherent or clear when communicating with you, and knows what they’re signing as well as the consequences of the document.
However, the alertness of your signer is not the only thing to watch out for when notarizing in a medical facility. In situations where there has been hospitalization or ongoing inpatient care, family members are often present at the time of the notarization. If it seems to you like family members are speaking over the signer, or are overeager to get the process over with and the papers signed, it may be a sign that your client is not fully aware of what they are signing or they are being pressured by family to sign the documents. If a family member seems to be participating too much, it is completely reasonable for you to ask them to leave the room to ensure you are communicating directly with the signer without interference. If you are concerned that family members are trying to rush the process, or the signer shows signs they are not fully aware, this could be a signal for you to slow down and ask an important question like is there a medical order or conservatorship that would prevent your client from signing documents any longer?
Ultimately, the final decision of whether or not your client is capable and willing to sign is up to you. There is no specific law giving strict guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, so you will need to use your best judgement as a notary. The bottom line is you must be reasonably certain your signer meets your standard of “alert and aware”. They do not have to be in perfect condition, especially in a hospital setting, but they do need be aware of what they’re doing; and willing to sign. Documenting additional information in your journal will go far to protect you later. As you gain experience you will be able to confidently determine this on a case-by-case basis.