One job qualification that may help you land your dream paralegal position is being certified as a Notary Public. As you can see by perusing the website of the American Society of Notaries, in many states, obtaining a Notary Commission is very simple.
Louisiana is not one of those states. To become a Notary Public in Louisiana, a candidate must pass a notary exam which, since the current format was adopted, has a pass rate just under 21%. However, while Notaries in most states are authorized to do little more than to serve as official witnesses for signatures, in Louisiana, Notaries are authorized to draft wills and contracts, handle successions if the gross value of the estate is under $125,000, draft the documents associated with the transfer of real property and more. While non-attorney notaries are not allowed to give legal advice, they can open private practices to provide these services directly to the public.
The First Step Towards the Louisiana Notary Examination
The Louisiana Notary Examination is administered by the Secretary of State’s office, which publishes the application procedures on their website.
Before anyone is allowed to take the Louisiana Notary Examination, they must first take a pre-assessment. This online test costs $30 and I believe the function is to weed out candidates before they have spent a lot of time and money to prepare for the Notary Exam. While the law only requires that the pre-assessment be taken a week prior to the registration deadline for the examination, I recommend that the pre-assessment be your first step towards the Louisiana Notary Examination.
The pre-assessment is a reading test, nothing more. It does not deal with legal terms, nor does it require knowledge of any particular topic. It tests your ability to read quickly and with comprehension. Upon completion you will be given a score, along with an opinion about whether you will be successful in taking the Louisiana Notary Examination. You are allowed to take the Notary Exam regardless of your pre-assessment score.
Picking an Examination Date
Once you have taken the pre-assessment and decided to proceed, the next step is to tentatively pick an examination date. The Louisiana Notary Examination is administered at least twice a year. If too many people register for the facilities used, some are assigned to other nearby weekends.
You will need to bring the official study guide Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice with you to the examination, and you are only allowed to bring the edition for the current year. For that reason, I recommend aiming for a fall examination date, but purchasing the book as soon as it is available in January. The cost is $100.00.
Another option is to aim for the spring date, but to be open to waiting if you are not prepared. While you may purchase the book any time, you must register for the exam thirty (30) days prior to the testing date.
Reviewing the Guide
Upon reception of your book, review the table of contents and flip through the book to get a sense of how it is organized as well as to ascertain how much of the material is familiar to you.
If you are a paralegal who practices real estate law or business law, concepts such as legal descriptions, mortgages, liens, and Acts of Sale will be familiar to you. Litigation paralegals are familiar with the court system as described early in the book, but may have only passing knowledge of real estate documents or wills.
Begin Reading with a Purpose
Next you will need to review the entire book, highlighter, and pen in hand. You are trying to do two things
- Gain a general familiarity with the topic. If you have to figure out what a mortgage is during the exam, you are going to fail. In general, when a word is used on the exam you need to have a pretty good idea of its meaning and how it relates to other things. You have to know the basics of real estate transactions and wills.
- Prepare yourself to locate specific information. Highlight definitions, qualifications, requirements, and other information you would need to draft the document being discussed.
Also, when you highlight words in the text, go to the glossary and see if they are there. If so, add a page number. If not, put them on the right page, and add a page number. Before you take the exam, make sure you have page numbers by all the words in the glossary.
As an example, on the exam, you will be asked if certain people can serve as witnesses on a particular document. You need to be able to quickly find the pages on that document and the pages that give the qualifications for a witness (unless you have a photographic memory and know this off the top of your head).
Purchase a Study Guide and/or Take a Preparation Class
The Secretary of State maintains a list of organizations providing preparation for the Notary Exam. You can use it to start your search for help in preparing for the Louisiana Notary Examination. Look up the providers and you will find testimonials about those who are helpful.
A study guide should do more than re-state the laws that are written in Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice. It should give you a lot of sample test questions and a description of how to read test questions efficiently and effectively. I recommend Fred Davis’ Pass My Notary.
Even before you finish your first review of Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice, start working your way through the Study Guide you purchased.
Start with the first sample test or a section with about ten questions. If you are not 100% sure of the answer to a question, look it up in Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice.before answering the question. This not only helps you learn the right answer, but it also helps you learn how to quickly find information in your book.
Most of the sample tests in the guide I used were ten to fifteen questions long, and they focused on one area. Once you have completed the sample test, check your answers and, if you did not get something right, try to figure out why the other answer is right.
Next, if you had to look up information, highlight it in the book, and, if possible, note the page in the glossary.
During my preparation for the Louisiana Notary Examination, I would review ten to fifteen pages in Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice per night and take several sample tests. If you are not able to consistently get 80% or more correct responses to sample tests, you are not ready to take the Notary Exam.
Realize That You Will Be Asked Application Questions
The Louisiana Notary Examination is going to be different from most tests you have taken in the past. They are not going to ask you to define “lien” nor are they going to ask you to list the qualifications to witness a will. Rather, you are going to be presented with a scenario–a story about someone who hired you to perform notary services–and some draft documents that go with the scenario. You will have to review the package and then answer some questions.
That is why a good study guide is so helpful–it gets you used to answering the types of questions that will be asked and used to quickly looking up the information needed. I have attached a sample scenario question and an explanation of the answers.
As you can see, this one scenario requires knowledge of:
- Small Successions
- Community Property
- Forced Heirship
- Proper Venue
If this scenario was on the examination, you could also expect to see questions about who had to execute documents or sample documents with choices for what goes in the blank. It is possible that you would be asked to identify the proper legal description of the property.
In short, this is not a test you can pass by memorizing the definition of small succession. However, if you are aware that small successions exist, and can quickly locate the section of your book that discusses them, you will note the $125,000 limit. If you know about the concept of forced heirship, and your glossary lists the page number on which it is discussed, you can quickly check to see if any of the Smith children qualify.
In The Testing Room
During the test you are allowed to scribble on the test booklet, but you are not allowed to write in your copy of Fundamentals of Louisiana Notarial Law and Practice. The first thing I recommend doing is going to the back of the test and seeing how many test items there are, and then dividing that number by five, the number of hours you are allowed for the exam. Then mark the booklet showing how far you should get each hour. This will help you pace yourself.
As you work your way through the test, mark items you are not sure of. If you get time, you can go back to them. You do not want to get bogged down searching for the answer to one question such that you do not have time to answer ten that you know. There is no penalty for guessing.
Passing the Louisiana Notary examination is not easy, but paralegals with a good command of real estate law who properly prepare can obtain their notary commission. Paralegals in all states should consider becoming a Notary Public to be able to offer an additional service to employers or clients. Give the sample scenario and questions below a try!
Sample Scenario and Questions for Louisiana Notary Examination
Mrs. Smith, a resident of Jefferson Parish, came to you, an Orleans Parish non-attorney Notary, and said that the bank wouldn’t give her a mortgage on her house because it was in the name of her late husband. She never opened his succession. She wants you to do what is necessary to put the house in her name so she can get the loan.
- Which of these things do you need to know?
- Whether they were married by a judge or clergyperson
- Whether they were married by ceremony or by common law
- When they were married
- When the house was purchased
- Where the house is located
- How much the house is worth
- All but a
- All but b
- All but a and b
- All but a and f
- You discover that the house is worth $150.000. Can you do as Mrs. Smith asks, without the help of an attorney?
- Unable to answer based on the information provided
- What if the house is worth $500,000?
- Unable to answer based on information provided.
- After reviewing all the provided information you learn that the house is community property and that you are capable of handling this job without an attorney. Which of these documents will you need to prepare?
- Petition to Probate Will
- Detailed Descriptive List
- Judgment of Possession
- Affidavit of Large Succession or Affidavit of Small Succession
- Declaration of Separate Property
- All of the above
- A, B, and C
- Where do you file the document(s) prepared in #4?
- City Hall
- Orleans Parish
- Jefferson Parish
- Office of Louisiana Land Records
- Mr. and Mrs. Smith had three children. John is 40 and working as a doctor. Jane is 35 and just graduated from law school. Michael is 30 and lives in a nursing home due to the head injury he sustained three months ago. Mr. Smith’s will left all his property to Mrs. Smith. He died three years ago and John, Jane and Michael were his only children. Are any of the children entitled to any of Mr. Smith’s property?
- Would the answer be the same if Mr. Smith died two months ago?
- The correct answer is “I”. It doesn’t matter whether they were married by clergy or a judge, either is valid. Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages. In order to determine if you can handle the succession without an attorney, you first need to know the gross value of the property, before any debts. Only small successions can be handled without filing a succession proceeding (lawsuit) with the court and only an attorney can represent someone in court. A small succession has a gross value under $125,000. Therefore, if the house is worth more than $250,000, you know you need to get an attorney involved. If the house is worth less than $250,000, you need more information in order to determine if this can be handled as a small succession. If the house was purchased after the date of marriage, it is likely community property, but you need to check the Act of Sale to make sure. If it was purchased before the date of marriage it may be separate property. If the Smith’s house was community property, you may be able to do a small succession depending on the other assets. If it was separate property, you cannot. While it is not necessary to know where the house was located in order to determine if a small succession is appropriate, you will need that information to know where to file documents.
- The correct answer is C. If the house is worth $150,000 and it is Mr. Smith’s separate property, then the value of the succession is too high for a small succession. If it is community property, then Mrs. Smith already owns $75,000 worth of it, so if his other assets are below $75,000, it can be handled as a small succession.
- The correct answer is no. Even if the house is community property, his half is over $125,000.
- The correct answer is D. A, B, and C are documents used when a succession is filed with the court, and as a Notary, you cannot file them. Small Successions are handled via Affidavit of Small Succession.
- C. Documents relating to the ownership of real property are filed in the Parish where the property is located.
- No. This was tricky–make sure you read the question and answer the question asked.
In Louisiana incompetent adult children are forced heirs–if your adult child has a disability such that she or he cannot care for himself or herself, you must leave a specified portion to him or her. In question 6, Michael was not a forced heir because he was not incompetent when his father died. Question 7 asked if the answer would be the same if Mr. Smith died two months ago. The answer would not, as Michael was injured six months ago.
Meet the Author – Ruth Curcuru, N.P.
Ruth W. Curcuru, N.P. has over thirty years of experience as a litigation paralegal and recently passed the examination to be named a Louisiana Notary Public. At Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann and Papale, L.L.P. in Metairie Louisiana she works in the fields of criminal defense and insurance defense. Her specialty is making molehills out of mountains of records.