Notary Home Study Course

Alternative forms of identity

Credible Witness

Suppose Susan Jones recently married William Taylor and chose to assume "Taylor" as her new married surname. Also suppose that there has been insufficient time to receive a new driver's license with her new surname so the only proper identification documents Susan has lists her surname as Jones. Perhaps Susan and her husband William Taylor have chosen to purchase a property and take title as William Taylor and Susan Taylor, husband and wife... When the loan documents are presented to the notary, they will require that Susan Jones is properly identified as Susan Taylor!

If someone is requiring notarial services but lacks the proper identification, we can use a procedure called a obtaining a credible witness. In California, a notary may rely on the oath of either one or two credible witnesses as a proper form of identity. If only one credible witness is used, that credible witness must personally know the signer and be personally known by the notary. The credible witness must swear the following oath or affirmation:

That the person making the acknowledgment is the person named within the document.

    • The person making the acknowledgment is personally known to the credible witness.
    • That it is the reasonable belief of the witness that the circumstances of the person making the acknowledgment are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for that person to obtain another form of identification.
    • The person making the acknowledgment does not possess any of the identification documents named above.
    • The witness does not have a financial interest in the document being acknowledged and is not named in the document.

Since the credible witness is personally known by the notary, and the credible witness personally knows the document signer, this establishes a reasonable chain of knowledge regarding the identity of the document signer according to California notary law. If the Notary does not know the Credible Witness, then two Credible Witnesses may be used whose identities are proven to the notary. Please note that credible witnesses may not have any financial interest in the document, nor may they be named within the document!

This sounds complicated but let's return to our example of Susan Jones and William Taylor. Susan must prove her identity to the notary as Susan Taylor but has no identification documents acceptable under notary law with her new name.

Now suppose it so happened that Susan's long-time friend, who knew that Susan had recently married William Taylor also happened to be a long-time friend of the notary. The notary could use his or her friend as a credible witness in order to verfiy the identy of Susan Taylor.

You might wonder why the notary could not use the Marriage Certificate as proof of identity but since this certificate does not comply with the requirements for identification, it may not be used.

Of course, the chances of the notary personally knowing the credible witness are slim and in California, in such a case, two credible witnesses may be used as long as both prove thier identities to the notary. Perhaps two long-time neighbors would agree to identify Susan Taylor. As long as the credible witnesses personally know the document signer and will not directly benefit from the document being notarized, they may be used.  


The Credible Witness(s) do not sign the document but must sign the notary journal. Remember that a single credible witness must personally be known by the notary and must personally know the signer, so the notary will not use identification documents to verify identity, but with two credible witnesses, identity documents are used for the credible witnesses since the notary does not personally know either credible witness. Of course, if the notary knew either one of the credible witnesses, only one would be required.