You may think that a notary is an elderly man enclosed in an old dusty office, his mind overwhelmed with tedious bureaucratic details. However, in today’s world, a notary can be an elegant, sophisticated lady who works around the clock, juggling both motherhood and community service at the same time.
I recently contacted such a young female notary who is constantly lending her expertise by providing answers to questions one would ask about various notarial issues. Her name is Evangelia-Angie Pelonis and she is the proud mother of two young children. Besides being a hard-working professional, Ms. Pelonis is involved in various non-profit organizations at the same time.
Evangelia-Angie Pelonis is a Montreal notary who completed her legal studies at Université de Montréal and was received by the Chambre des notaires du Québec in February of 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science), a Bachelor of Law, and a graduate certificate in notarial law.
How do the roles of lawyer and notary differ?
Lawyers and notaries have the same background in that both professional orders require a law degree for admittance. Following a bachelor of laws, a future notary will need to complete a master’s degree in notarial law, and a four month articling period before they can be admitted into the order of notaries. It therefore takes at least 4 years of university in addition to the articling in order to become a notary.
Notaries play three roles in their daily practice: public officer, officer of the court and legal advisor. To sum up a list that’s too exhaustive to list here, we primarily advise clients on any legal matter and draft contracts for them to sign with the intention of avoiding legal conflicts and confusion. What sets us apart from lawyers (attorneys) is mainly the fact that we cannot represent clients in litigious situations. If a file of ours becomes contested then we must recuse ourselves since we need to remain impartial and therefore cannot represent one party against another.
Is this divison of responsibilities becoming less defined? For example, is a notary not able to handle an uncontested divorce today?
There are many fields in which notaries and lawyers overlap. We can do lots of things lawyers can and vice versa. Since notaries are impartial and often serve as mediators and problem solvers, the tendency towards preventive justice and out of court settlements means that our role is more important than ever in the legal sphere today. Notaries now have the capacity to handle uncontested divorces since the 21st of February. We were not able to in the past because it was argued that divorce is of a contested nature in and of itself, which is something that I do not personally agree with. We are actually very well positioned to handle divorces due to our knowledge and practice of marital law on a daily basis. All marriage contracts signed in Quebec must be done so before a notary, which of course includes the legal advice that comes with it, and we already settle dissolutions of marriages due to death; it is only logical then that we may submit divorce agreements to the courts in the case of a couple who agrees upon the terms of their separation.
What requests represent the bulk of your workload?
Real estate transactions typically represent an important part of the average notary’s workload. This is the case because every mortgage (hypothec) signed in Quebec has to be instrumented by a notary. We are also experts in title examinations, and in solving problems that exist, and preventing problems that may arise. The second largest segment of my practice personally, is estate law. The notarized will is the only kind that does not need to be probated following death, so we are very often solicited to draft and sign our clients’ wills. To this we add the signing of the protective mandate, which is also commonly known as a “living will”; it is basically a power of attorney only valid in the case where the person who signed it is declared legally incapable of representing themselves. We counsel clients on, and also handle, estate liquidation following someone’s death. We can settle an estate from start to finish, which relieves the burden from the liquidators or the heirs. Given the persistent strength of the real estate market, notaries have been very busy.
How long do you see the condominium market can last?
What most people don’t realise is how few notaries there are in Quebec. There are currently only 3800 notaries in the entire province. When all mortgages have to cross the desk of a notary, that makes for quite a busy profession! We are continuing to see a steady and strong real estate market in Quebec. The prices of homes seem to have stabilized and continue to increase, however at a slower pace than we saw during the decade of 2000-2010. As for the condominium market, demand is still high, however supply is also high. What we see in this case is that condos in desirable areas (ex: Downtown, Griffintown, Bois Franc, Plateau Mont-Royal and some parts of Laval) remain relatively easy to sell. We currently do feel, however, that it is a buyer’s market at the moment.
How does one go about finding a trustworthy notary? What should he or she look out for?
Direct referral is the way most of our clients come to our offices, so it’s a good idea to ask family and friends if they’ve used a notary they were happy with. Like with many things, the lowest price should not be someone’s priority when looking for a notary. Instead, one should look at the notary’s qualifications and experience in certain types of files. Also, because notaries and their clients can have long term relationships, it is important that the client and the notary feel comfortable working together.
Can a Quebec notary help with affairs in other parts of Canada? In the US?
We cannot act as lawyers in the rest of Canada or in the US because our jurisdiction is limited to Quebec. However we can sign notarised deeds relating to Quebec matters anywhere in the world. I myself have signed acts in Greece, Mexico and Florida. We can however help a client from Quebec who is dealing outside the province be it by signing a power of attorney, affidavit, or any legal documents that need to be signed before a notary or commissioner of oaths. We also help foreigners deal with property they have in Quebec, often from a distance, via powers of attorney. Since we are not familiar with laws and procedures in other jurisdictions, we keep a wide network of legal professionals in other provinces, states and countries.
How important is it for an individual to have a will? What should they be conscious about?
Every adult should have a proper will; I can’t stress this enough. Many people do not know what happens to their estate when they die without a will, and do not like what they hear when we explain the law to them. The only way to override the law is to prepare a will, ideally with a notary in order to benefit from the legal advice and knowledge. People should be conscious of the fact that a will provides surviving family members with peace of mind, tax savings and avoidance of heavy legal requirements should minor children inherit from their parents or other family members, only to name a few advantages. We have had many estates fall into court procedures because of issues that would have been avoided with a simple meeting with a notary to prepare a notarized will.
How difficult is it to play well the roles of a wife, a mother and a busy notary?
I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive family. The adage of “it takes a village” rings very true in our household. My husband has been supportive during my career path since I was an articling student, and has provided nothing but encouragement and motivation. Along with sharing all household and parenting tasks equally, this allows for me to enjoy both my career and my family. My parents and parents-in-law are integral parts of our and our children’s’ lives, and thankfully love to cook and feed everyone! The struggle for that famous “balance” does certainly always hang in the background, but I am learning that we don’t need to do everything, instead we should focus on the things that are the most important to us. I also believe that if we seek perfection in every aspect of our lives, there is a good chance we will be disappointed with the outcome. I take things one day at a time, and think that it’s very important to keep an open and honest dialogue with those we love most.
Do you mix yourself in your Community things?
I have always been involved in the Greek community to varying degrees throughout the years, and hope to increase my participation in the coming years. Maintaining my Greek cultural background and ensuring that my children get the chance to do this as well is very important to me.