Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Effective October 26, 2017, another set of requirements comes into play for notaries public in Pennsylvania. The changes, which became effective in stages over the course of many months, responded to reports of abuses. Indeed, when I was supervising our Elder Protection Clinic at Dickinson Law, we would occasionally come into contact with powers of attorney or deed transfers that were allegedly signed in from of a notary as a witness, but which clearly were not.
On one occasion, we learned that another law office "routinely" had the in-office notary using her official power for documents signed in the home of the attorney's clients. She was following her boss's direction. Sadly, our law students had an extra lesson that day on potential obligations to report such violations to the State Bar.
The most recent changes to Pennsylvania's law include a notary's mandated attendance at training classes. The notary was, even before the latest changes, required to have "personal knowledge" or "satisfactory evidence" of the identity of the individual whose signature was to be notarized, but the most recent changes specified documents that can be used as satisfactory evidence: "a passport, driver's license or government-issued nondriver identification card, which is current and unexpired," or another form of government identification which is current and "contains the signature or photograph of the individual, and is satisfactory to the notarial officer." 57 Pa.C.S.A. Section 307. A third alternative is documenting identity through "verification on oath . . . of a credible witness," a vague process that seems to raise more red flags than it eliminates.
Overall, the changes are a sad reflection of the times, not the least of which are the extraordinary opportunities for identity theft triggered by data hackers. Some Pennsylvania elder law attorneys, however, are wondering whether the requirement of current, unexpired government i.d. cards will make it more difficult to meet the needs of disabled, older clients.
I can say from experience, when my mother's bank tellers insisted they could no longer accept her expired driver's license as proof of identity on her weekly visits to the bank, it was the final straw on the camel's back. We made the trek together to her home state's DMV for a "nondriver" i.d. card. Fortunately, at age 91, she was still able to spend more than an hour of time and effort on such a task. Even though she knew her license was expired, and even though (I hope) she wasn't driving since she'd been prohibited from driving by her eye doctor more than a year earlier, that last step of no longer being allowed to use "normal" proof of identity was hard for her. She reacted to the new card as unwelcome proof she was not just old, but "too old."