Watch Out For Death Bed Notarization Requests

Today I received a desperate caller claiming a woman was sick and dying at her home that it was a matter of “life and death” that they needed to have her sign important documents as an emergency. Where do I begin explaining how wrong it is in so many ways to notarize a person whose about to die?

I once answered a call like this 5 years ago at UCSF hospital around midnight and won’t ever do it again. The dying man’s body was shutting down and, after being notarized, he died within one agonizing hour according to his family member. A trust attorney once brought me to a senior for a POA that the bank wouldn’t accept my notarization for an illegible signature. I once arrived to a hospital for some divided family in heated conflict to fight over whether I should be there or not. I also arrived at CPMC for an elderly mother in her hospital bed that some relative rushed over to sign wanting to kill me that I didn’t accept his niece’s U.S. Passport Card who came from Oakland. Seriously, the guy was fuming at me!

Yes, I like to be there for people but a dying person lacks capacity and/or is being coerced in a vulnerable situation as they die to sign documents. I don’t want any probate judge or clerk for that matter, to witness my notary stamp on a dying person’s document ever again.

In my view, they can battle the issues out in probate court without having to involve the notary as witness of the death bed signing let alone burdening a dying person. It’s traumatizing to watch a person in dire pain putting my notary journal before them for a price. By the way, what sickness does the person have that I should be confident won’t affect my own health?

It’s against God’s will that I attend to a dying person this way as a profitable transaction. They’re entering eternity and God may note, “a notary Cheryl was at your side having you sign her journal? Check!”

I think it’s unnecessary for a NP to be summoned to a dying person’s bed to sign documents. Hospitals like UCSF should prohibit this practice. It’s the family’s fault they didn’t prep better for end of life documents. For instance, the dying man I described earlier whose body was shutting down? He was a big time solar CEO who had to be flown by helicopter taken from Mount Kilimanjaro to the hospital that he had neglected to get his trust documents in order prior to the trip!

Dying is a serious deeply personal matter that a for profit NP shouldn’t attend nor witness another this way in my opinion. We need to be mindful of being in the presence of a near to death person when we really shouldn’t be. For instance, earlier generations summoned men and women of God to pray at the dying’s bedside as people sadly awaited the moment of death’s arrival.

Imagine the possibility you as a notary public are at a stranger’s death bed who his family has arranged for you to notarize his trust documents including deed transfers. He is about to enter eternity and there you are in his face distracting him with papers to sign and thumbprints that he thinks to himself after 80 years on earth being in tremendous pain and suffering “I hate notary publics! I hate this greedy b*tch here making a buck off my death putting me through all of this sh**t!”

A Notary Public with his/her journal open on the dying’s bed thereafter accepting credit card payment doesn’t belong in this picture. This is the type of thing NP’s get a bad reputation for being vultures attending to death bed notarizations that I can assure that God doesn’t approve of at all. You can rationalize it all you want, just not a good idea if you value your soul.

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I understand and agree wholeheartedly.

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Very well said. Thank you

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I disagree with this entire post. Who are we to decide that we know better than the signer what his/her own wishes are and what is best for them. If that signer is lucid, knows what they are signing and they firmly state to me that these are their wishes, then notarizing is our duty - I will not get into a religious lecture/debate with them or impose MY religious or moral beliefs on them - PROVIDED they ARE lucid, know what they are doing and the transaction is their wish.

If you, personally, due to whatever beliefs you have, don’t wish to do them, that is your prerogative, but we are public officers and are supposed to be a neutral party - and not judgmental. It is not up to us to insert our moral/religious beliefs into someone else’s wishes.

Now, that said, if I were in your situation where the family is arguing between themselves, again that’s not our problem. Let them argue til they’re blue in the face. Meanwhile, I will have a private discussion with the potential signer, (and I do mean private - everyone leaves the room), documents in hand, and make sure the signer has reviewed them, understands them and is willing to sign them of their own free will. If the signer does, and verbalizes that to me, I will proceed and will not tolerate any interference from anyone in my signing transaction.

I’m sorry, but inserting my own religious beliefs and morals into what someone else wants is intrusive and goes against our standing as a Notary Public.

JMO

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Agree w/LindaH-FL 'nuf said.

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In general, as a Notary Public and/or Certified Notary Signing Agent [CNSA], one should always remain cognizant and be vigilant of the signer’s comprehension. There are several very simple ways to make this determination.

In addition, for GNW, I will frequently ask any non-signers present to “please give us a moment.” No one has ever refused the request. Once we’re alone with the door closed, I ask the signer to briefly explain their understanding of the document & ask if they’re under any pressure or duress to sign it.

Concur with the post by LindaH-FL in its’ entirety and especially the following:

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This is your own moral judgement concerning the situation. Just because someone is dying doesn’t mean the world stops. Bills still need to paid, documents need to be signed, life continues. And you can’t “assure” anything about God’s feelings… but that’s a whole other topic that I don’t care to engage in with you. Basically, if you don’t want to do those notarizations, just don’t. Someone else will.

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I have been doing this for over 30 years. I have signed so many people in the hospital. Also I’ve done Signings in hospice. I’m very careful with the dying person signings of course because it can come back to haunt you. I had a call from an attorney recently asking if the person was lucid when they signed. It was a death deed. So I had to confirm to her that he was aware and wanted to sign this document. Use your intuition. I also had a woman express her will. She said verbally and in writing what her wishes were. Then when she passed away the brother stole the will So then they have no will. It became complicated and sad. Take each case as it goes. If I saw that there was a lot of conflict in the family I would not do the signing. There is obviously pressure when you have all your family around you . In this case I would not do it either because of all of the stuff happening. But if it is a peaceful normal signing except for the fact that they are dying and I do it. I actually had a young man in hospice who ended up dying while I was there. I helped transition him. He was brought to hospice and was going to sign a power of attorney. However when I went to see him he was unconscious which his father said was the case. So I decided just to sit with his son until they arrived on an emergency flight here to Hawaii. But during that hour and a half I could see that he was fading . He ended up passing away an hour and a half later. No docs for needed in the end because he was in hospice so these forms were not even relevant. I think I was sent there to be with his son. I talked him through it told him not to be scared . I talked nonstop so he knew he wasn’t alone. His parents were very grateful that I was there so he was not alone and he did not know how bad of shape he was in so when they saw him they were shocked. They were grateful they didn’t have to watch him die but knew that he was told he’s not alone. I’ve done this so long that I have experienced almost everything you can. Even somebody dying in front of me. I felt it was an honor. His parents were the first people to see his first breath and a random notary me was there for his last breath. So there are moments when you could be called to things like this can happen. For me I’m just a very intuitive person for me it was amazing. So when I basically recommend after all of my many many many Signings is use your intuition. Your intuition is your best friend. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. You are not obligated even as a public servant . This is your commission and your business and I don’t want to do anything that could risk that. But as you can see I use my intuition to guide me to help reduce the exposure to negative things like litigation. Aloha

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It is definitely your prerogative as a notary to decide what signings you are or are not comfortable with, but dying people do not lose capacity simply because they are at the end of life. If they are fully alert and oriented, understand what they are signing, and are free from coercion, they can absolutely have documents notarized. If they are so weak that their signature is illegible, that is why the signature by mark process exists.

I work full-time as a member of a hospital palliative care team and became a notary in order to support our patients who want to notarize advance healthcare directives. I cannot tell you how many seriously ill patients desperately want these documents notarized so that they can record their medical preferences and ensure that the right person has control over their care once they do lose capacity. Notarizing these documents in the most routine scenarios gives patients and families peace of mind, and in more extreme cases protects patients from family members who do not have the patient’s best interest in mind.

I have my limits. I only notarize healthcare-related documents and have worked with our legal, risk management, infection control, and social services departments to establish my scope and communicate it clearly to patients and staff. I agree that these people should have prepared better, but they have one more chance when they see me, and I try and help whoever I can. I’ve aborted signings when patients are clearly disoriented, and usually family members understand.

As for making a buck off the dying, my position is grant-funded so I don’t charge patients, but death is in industry. Everyone from the hospital to the hospice to the mortuary is sending that family a bill after that patient dies, and I promise you your $15 + travel (or whatever your state allows) is a drop in the bucket, especially if it saves family the anxiety of fighting over medical decision-making. You worry about patients resenting notaries at the end of life. After years of working with the sick and dying I can assure you there’s a 99% chance you are the absolute LAST thing on that patient’s mind as they come to terms with their mortality.

Again, it’s your prerogative to decide what you are and are not comfortable with. Because of my background I am personally much more comfortable notarizing in a healthcare setting than doing complex financial documents. If you are charging exorbitant amounts to do bad-faith notarizations, I agree you should be ashamed. I read a post on here a while back about a notary bragging about the $300+ he charged an ICU patient and it made my stomach turn. But if you are providing a needed service at a fair price to someone who needs it, you do not need to fear for your soul. As Luke 10.7 says, “the worker deserves their wages.”

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A dying person can be competent enough to have a document notarized, it is up to us to verify that they are!

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Not necessarily true. A notary must have a valid reason to decline a notarization. Personal opinions or beliefs do not matter. Are the alert and aware of what they are signing? Are they signing of their own free act and deed? Do they have ID? That is all we need.

I do occasional hospice signings and do not charge for that service in honor of my mother’s memory. Our notary 20 years ago didn’t charge us and I remember that kindness to this day. Honestly, it has gotten me tons of repeat business too. I am now on call for a couple local lawyers, nursing homes, assisted living homes, and for the hospice for notary jobs. They usually try to pay me anyway but sometimes they really can’t afford it. My major in college was psychology with a focus on geriatric psychology. I also have 2 years experience in an Alzheimer’s facility. I always make sure the person is lucid and understands what they are signing and also that it is what they want just like with any other signing. Sometimes that means a few more questions and a little more time but it is worth it. I always treat them with kindness and compassion. It is not our job to judge. For hospice signings I usually ask to come when they are more awake and try to avoid evenings due to sun downing.

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