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In thinking about notaries, I'm wondering what happens when they pass on. My understanding basically is that a notary is an unbiased 3rd party that observes a transaction and creates some legal documentation about it or a legal document of some sort, and then "stores that at their office". It sounds like they are independent contractors or lawyer-like people who work for themselves. It looks like you need to be certified as well.

Given that, I'm wondering what happens if the notary passes on. I wonder who is in charge of their documents, the ones where they were the third party. Say Google and Space X had a notary called Foo Bar, and then Foo Bar passes on. I wonder if there is some state-structured system for passing their notarized docs to some other notary to take over, so Google and Space X would have some sort of guarantee that they would always have some notary to vouch for their contract for as long as the companies were in existence. Wondering what the protocol is here. It's not as if the notary's documents get dispersed to their children, or passed on to people according to an arbitrary will. I would imagine they'd need to be part of a highly structured system so that there is a chain of notaries that is unbroken and that is known to always be legally valid or something like that.

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This could vary by jurisdiction. I'll discuss California; its rules are explained in the California Notary Public Handbook, which also includes relevant excerpts from the law.

The system is not as structured as you might think. Basically the "documents" consist only of the notary's journal, a log of all the official actions the notary has taken. So if, for instance, you go to sign a document before the notary, they will enter into their journal information such as your name, the date, how they verified your identity, and the type of certification they provided.

Section 8209 of the California Government Code specifies how those documents get passed on when something happens to the notary:

(a) If any notary public resigns, is disqualified, removed from office, or allows his or her appointment to expire without obtaining reappointment within 30 days, all notarial records and papers shall be delivered within 30 days to the clerk of the county in which the notary public’s current official oath of office is on file. If the notary public willfully fails or refuses to deliver all notarial records and papers to the county clerk within 30 days, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be personally liable for damages to any person injured by that action or inaction.

(b) In the case of the death of a notary public, the personal representative of the deceased shall promptly notify the Secretary of State of the death of the notary public and shall deliver all notarial records and papers of the deceased to the clerk of the county in which the notary public’s official oath of office is on file.

(c) After 10 years from the date of deposit with the county clerk, if no request for, or reference to such records has been made, they may be destroyed upon order of court.

So if the notary quits being a notary while still alive, they send their journal to the county clerk. It doesn't get given to another notary. If they die first, the notary's personal representative (typically their executor) is responsible for doing so. If the journal needs to be examined, e.g. as evidence that you signed your document on a particular date, you would be able to get a copy of the journal page from the county clerk.

The journal does not necessarily have to be kept for more than 10 years after the notary's death, resignation, etc, so there is no guarantee that those records would be available in perpetuity.

  • Hmm... I'm wondering if everyone who used the notary will get notified of this change, so they can take appropriate actions to find a new notary and redo their contract or something like that. Maybe they call the notary every year or two and check in, make sure they are still in business. If not, then time to update the contract and find a new notary. – Lance Pollard Dec 30 '18 at 3:24
  • No, I don't believe there's any provision for notifying all the notary's clients. That would be pretty impractical. I think what would happen in practice is that if you need something, you try to contact the notary. If you find out they're no longer practicing, then you go to the county clerk instead. – Nate Eldredge Dec 30 '18 at 3:26
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    @LancePollard: Also, it'd only be in unusual circumstances that you'd ever need to see the journal. The notary would have given you a certificate, stamped with their seal, and in most cases that'd be plenty of evidence for a court. You'd only need the journal, or the notary's testimony, if there was some reason for the court to doubt that the certificate was genuine. – Nate Eldredge Dec 30 '18 at 3:28

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