Sufficient proof of a person’s identity, such as a state issued driver’s license, is needed in many situations related to estate planning and estate administration.  Consider, for example, notarizing estate planning documents, obtaining a medallion signature guarantee to transfer securities, opening a bank account, obtaining possession of legal documents, and receiving an inheritance.  Let us discuss.

Trusts, deeds, powers of attorney and advance health care directives, amongst others, are all documents that are typically required to be notarized.  According to the National Notary Association’s website, “[n]otarization is the official fraud-deterrent process that assures the parties of a transaction that a document is authentic, and can be trusted. …  Above all, notarization is the assurance by a duly appointed and impartial Notary Public that a document is authentic, that its signature is genuine, and that its signer acted without duress or intimidation, and intended the terms of the document to be in full force and effect.”

Notarization requires that the signor provide an acceptable picture proof of identification, such as a driver’s license, passport, or tribal card, provided it either is current or was issued within 5 years.  Unfortunately, some senior citizens no longer have a driver’s license.  Such seniors can still obtain a state issued “non-driver’s proof of identity” which is adequate proof of identity. 

Alternatively, California allows a notary to accept the sworn statement of two credible witnesses each of whom knows the signor and has their own acceptable government issued proof of identity. 

Next, a so-called, “medallion guarantee stamp” is required to transfer securities and to open a brokerage account, such as when transferring a decedent’s brokerage account.  According to the National Notary Association’s website, “[a] Medallion Signature Guarantee is used primarily when a customer transfers or sells securities, and it represents an assurance by the financial institution that the signature on the transaction is genuine and the financial institution accepts liability for any forgery. These guarantees are performed by specially assigned bank employees.” 

A medallion guarantee stamp is typically obtained from a bank or brokerage with whom one has an open account.  Like a notarial act, a medallion stamp requires a valid government issued proof of identification. 

Opening a bank account may not only require presenting a government issued proof of identify but sometimes can also require providing other supporting legal documents, such as a trustee’s certification of trust (to open a trust account), or certified court issued letters of administration of a decedent’s estate and a certified court order (to open a personal representative’s account in a probate).  These supporting documents prove the person’s representative authority.

Taking possession of legal documents at a bank safe or from an attorney’s office will also require proof of identification.  With a bank safe, however, it is also necessary for the person to have the key to the safe deposit box.

Receiving an inheritance may require identifying oneself to a bank (to claim a pay on death benefit) or to an administrator or trustee of a decedent’s estate when a person’s current name differs from the name used in the estate planning document.  A so-called “one and the same” affidavit may be sufficient.  The affidavit is a sworn statement under penalty of perjury that the person is known by two or more names.  It requires a notarial act known as a jurat, which itself requires proof of identification of the name used to sign the affidavit. 

Clearly not having an acceptable government issued identification issued within the last five years can be an obstacle to estate planning or estate administration.  While not everyone needs a driver’s license everyone should at least consider maintaining a current non-driver’s state issued form of identification, a current passport or a current tribal card. 

Dennis A. Fordham, attorney, is a State Bar-Certified Specialist in estate planning, probate and trust law. His office is at 870 S. Main St., Lakeport, Calif. He can be reached at and 707-263-3235.

“Serving Lake and Mendocino Counties for nineteen years, the Law Office of Dennis Fordham focuses on legacy and estate planning, trust and probate administration, and special needs planning. We are here for you. 870 South Main Street Lakeport, California 95453-4801. Phone: 707-263-3235.”