Notary reporting requirements in Ohio are getting more involved then they have been before. And they are quite strange given the the job of a notary.
The state has decreed that notaries are required, as of September 29th, to report any suspicions of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation to the authorities.
The state has expanded its requirements for suspicion of abuse before, but that has always been professionals in the medical field. You know, doctors, EMTs, pharmacists. The type of people you might expect to have the type of training to properly weigh these things.
But, no. The notary will now be expected to look for signs of abuse and report them.
To be fair, notaries are not the only profession caught up in this. Real Estate agents, bank employees and others are too. Many of whom are not given the proper training in their fields to make these types of judgments.
We have already spoken with Ohio’s Attorney General’s Office. More specifically, about what training may be available for notaries.
They have been very helpful, and we expect to receive more information from them shortly. As soon as we do, we will let you know about it.
Respect Our Elders
I think we all agree that respecting our elders is the right thing to do. Any type of abuse against them is wrong.
But the majority of abuse cases are subtle. Sure, if you saw someone who was surely battered, no one would fault you for doing the right thing. But, 24% of all elder abuse is exploitation. Additional causes are neglect, emotional abuse and more.
Notaries are taught from day 1 that you never give your opinions at the table. Outside of a circumstance where a signer is obviously unfit, whatever the cause, professional notaries are expected to act in a certain way. You don’t know the person’s circumstances, and you don’t know if this is the best deal a person might be able to make. It is hard to see, from our perspective, how you would evaluate these types of things without saying things at the table that are taboo for the industry.
This raises a lot of hard questions.
Does this Raise My Liability?
In short, no.
As long as you make the report in good faith, and do not provide demonstrably false information.
What is more unclear, is a situation where you do not report and the state thinks you should have. With the Ohio law, it is a misdemeanor criminal offense to not report elder abuse, if a reasonable person would believe it was there. But, how does a notary even understand, in a 45 minute signing, enough to make these assumptions?
We could cite the actual statutes, but it is confusing. Family Safety and Healing has a breakdown that is much better than we could give you.
The concern we do have here is what recently happened in Texas. That an investigation over one signing might lead to investigation of all your past signings.
What About My Clients?
This is where it could get ugly.
Even though the state will protect your identity, and you are free from liability for reporting suspected abuse, your clients will inevitably figure it out. And what happens then?
Does it even matter if the report is correct? What if you are wrong?
What if your main client is out of state, be it a private client or signing service? This could cause a headache to your client, who wasn’t physically present at the signing to make this judgment call alongside you, but yet could be dragged into and through the problem. The notary could feel like they could lose a valuable client, even though they followed the laws for their state. They could feel that this could trickle down the line from one client to the next and cost them their business as they become a nuisance.
How is That Fair to Ohio Notaries?
It is not fair. We readily recognize that.
Most companies would understand and appreciate the notary doing the right thing.
But, none of us can deny that businesses run on money. Some notaries may feel if they end up costing their clients’ money, they are not going to be happy.
We understand the notaries’ concerns on this and how it can affect them. We also see the need for additional training to be available. Fortunately, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office understands this and is helping us get Ohio notaries the information they need.
While we applaud the intent of the new rules in Ohio, we are concerned at what the outcome will be for our notary friends in Ohio.
We do hope our concerns are unfounded, and that these rules changes will result in less elder abuse and that notaries will be free to follow their conscience and the law. But, there are some valid concerns, and we feel it is the right thing to try helping Ohio notaries understand them.