Under duress?

A question for everyone - especially the veterans out there: When would you consider a signer is doing so “under duress”? I recently had a signing where signer #2 was running a little late, but when they arrived it was clear from the tension that this was not going to be smooth sailing. Suffice it to say that after about 2-3 minutes of vitriol going in one direction (with all kinds of personal, legal and social accusations flying) I was able to insert myself and ask, “so are you refusing to sign the documents?”. The individual took a beat and was almost normally coherent when they responded to me, “because I am a nice person I will sign these documents”. But, while I was registering their information in my journal, the vitriol continued to fly. I sat the papers and the pen to one side waiting for them to return to the table. When they did they simply asked, “where should I sign”. I pointed in the locations (a short stack requiring only a few signatures) and provided signing instructions and they ripped through the signing. When the signing was done, I gathered my things as the shouting and accusations continued to fly as I headed out the door on my way to shipping.
After I had a moment to consider what I was just a part of, two things came to mind: 1) title and scheduling have no idea what we confront in the field to secure these signatures (and no matter how much they pay sometimes it’s not nearly enough); 2) although the individual signed, would this be a situation where they did so under duress? I called to report the incident to the scheduling service and I put the question to them and left it in their hands to share with title. What say you?
BTW - at no time did I feel threatened or all that uncomfortable. This is not my first rodeo and I have been in the midst of a few of these situations. On occasion I have been pulled into their mess with a question directed at me and I ricochet it back to them as being uniquely their issues to deal with. But, I’m glad I grew up in rough-and-tumble surroundings. This one was mild by some comparisons!

The dictionary defines duress as: threats, violence, constraints, or other action brought to bear on someone to do something against their will or better judgment.
As the party provided ID and stated TWICE: “because I am a nice person I will sign these documents” and “where should I sign”, I believe you acted properly. That being said, it’s good that you informed hiring party and, while it’s still fresh, MAKES NOTES. Lots of them. I also doubt that hiring party will share info w/title.


YES YES YES to adding LOTS of notes in your journal. If a lawsuit between them is in your future, all you will have is your journal notes. Be sure to emphasize that despite their arguments, both parties signed voluntarily.

The other thing I try to do is speak with each signer privately (I ask everyone else to leave the room).

My least fave signings usually involve a couple who is divorcing. Not sure if that was what this experience but some signings are soooo awkward. They don’t pay us for all the emotional baggage!


I say under duress because I have no idea what transpired in order to get party #2 to the signing. They were not there when I arrived. When they stomped into the room the first statement was “now what do you want me to sign and what’s in it for me?”. That statement made me question the signing altogether. From that point the party never stopped shouting while party #1 exited up the stairs. So, in a way, they were already separated – but the shouting continued! Party #1 came back down the stairs to offer an apology to me for being party to this sensitive family matter, at which point party #2 exited to the powder room - still shouting. That’s when I questioned party #2 about their willingness to sign, while they were somewhat in the same place at the same time. They exited the powder room to say they would sign (because they were a good person), when party #1 exited to another part of the house. It was a pretty wild circus and the shouting never stopped. (IF any of the accusations were true – which Party #1 shouted “I said I was sorry” from somewhere off in the background – I can understand the anger and hurt. But, that was not my business!) Once party #2 acquiesced I felt good to go. But, I was still uncomfortable about it. Which is why I gave a full, detailed account of what transpired to the SS. Hope all is well over there.

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I doubt hiring party shares w title either…
You asked direct questions and got direct answers…

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Sometimes the title company or settlement company knows that there is hostility between the parties because of the of a divorce or separation or whatever it might be, but they don’t share it with the notary. Some Title companies do share it so you are forewarned and prepared. Sometimes you have to find out on your own when you show up. The best thing is to perform your due diligence and follow all your steps and procedures that you normally would take. Take their IDs and record them in your journal. Have them sign the journal and doing everything by the book and that way if there’s a lawsuit you can basically tell the judge that you did your due diligence. You follow the book you’re not there for any of the emotional baggage or any of the other Hostility that may be occurring between the parties. I’ve been doing this for 20 years And run into situations like this. I complete the work and get out. I block out the emotions and hostility.

just had one like that the other day. My reward: the little kitty cat came near me and licked me like it was saying “Thank you so much for being patient with my mommy and daddy” LOL :black_cat:

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Based on the information in your post, I wouldn’t say whether this is a duress situation or not. It sounds like this was a loan signing when you reference title; it may not matter, but I’m curious if this was this a married couple, siblings, investment partners, co-habitants, or something else. Just because one signer arrives late may not mean anything. More important, what was the “vitriol”? Were they arguing about the action in the documents to be signed, or about some other matter? It may be taken as indicators when one party says “because I am a nice person I will sign these documents” that something is amiss. Personally, I would not ask “so are you refusing to sign the documents?” because that is too suggestive. I would meet privately with each individual, and by private I mean someplace where the other party could not hear or see our conversation, and start with some general conversational conversation to understand the overall the situation, then ask them something like ‘How are you feeling about signing these documents?’ and ask follow up questions based on their responses to clarify, for myself, if this was a situation of one party trying to force the other party to sign.

If needed I then refer to my state’s Notary laws or my Notary handbook, if one is available, to assess what I have learned against the statutory standards. If I made the decision that I would not proceed with the signing, I would explain it in terms of it being my decision that this is not the right time to proceed with the signing and probably offer to work with them, the signing service, and/or title to reschedule. Yes, I realize that means all the documents would have to be redone and reprinted, but we have an obligation to not proceed with any notarization if we believe (and we can articulate) that coercion or duress is involved.

I may have a slight advantage in this type of situation because I spent a number of years as a mediator and arbitrator for FINRA before I because a Notary and a Loan Signing Agent.

I have found signing agencies don’t care they just want the package signed so they can be paid by the title company and receive more business. I ended a relationship with a signing company because the title company made an error and somehow the problem became mine. They wanted me to backdate documents they omitted to put in the package. I refused to backdate and then I was mud in the eyes of the signing company.

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I would point out that even for police officers, domestic situations have the highest probability for unpredictability and escalation; things can go from bad to tragic in an instant. That’s why these situations usually see a whole bunch of officers, instead of just the one who responded initially.

If there is true vitriol (i.e.: yelling, threats, etc…), the signing agent should consider whether the signing is worth the effort - whether to declare ‘no joy’ and extract themselves from the situation.


As a 40 year real estate agent, i have encountered this. Usually it is a contentious divorce where the property has to be sold. Sounds like this is what you had. Shame on the reql estate agent for not scheduling separate closings. As a notary, it sounds like you did the right thing. Only other thing would be to stop the signing referring them to speak to their respective attorneys.

Just my opinion, I would say it was a hostile signing from what you described. The animosity seems like it was towards each other and any reluctance to sign was to get a jab into the other but no one was forced to do anything in front of you. Now if someone wasn’t wanting to sign and they only did so because the other signing was nagging or threatening then that would be under duress. Take notes, always ask if they want to sign and give them the choice and if they give any kind of reluctance to that then by all means consider it under duress BUT consider if the reluctance is because of being forced or just out of spite. The situation you just described seems to be the latter to me.