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What is a Notary?

A Notary Public is a public officer serving the community by performing various official acts to deter fraud. Companies, corporations, and private citizens use a notary as an official impartial witness when signing (notarizing) legal documents.

A part of a notary’s ministerial duties requires screening signers of essential papers to verify their true identity and willingness to sign the paperwork without intimidation or coercion. In some cases, the notary has the signer taken an oath and declare under penalty of perjury that the information in the paperwork is correct and accurate.

Most notaries work at traditional offices, banks, or financial institutions. Some notaries are self-employed, working part-time or full-time at the same institution or in a mobile capacity.

Some mobile notaries travel to their customers’ offices or residences to complete a scheduled signing. Attorneys typically have one or more notaries working on paperwork, witnessing signatures, and adding their seal to essential papers.

Notary Public Facts

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over four million notaries provide official services in the United States.

  • Approximately 84% of all notaries are women.
  • Florida, Georgia, and Texas have the most notaries than all other states.
  • About 35% of notaries in the United States provide public services in the mortgage, finance, and banking industries
  • The state government typically appoints notaries
  • Not every state requires a license to operate as a Notary Public
  • Licensed notaries can only perform public service and witness documents in the state where they are licensed
  • These public officials usually have limited legal authority other than notarizing documents and witnessing the signers’ signatures
  • Many banks higher certified notaries and offer notary services to their account holders
  • Many notaries work at government offices, local libraries, military offices, insurance companies, and real estate agencies
  • Some companies and private citizens notarize documents that do not need a notarization to help increase confidence that the paperwork was signed by the actual parties involved in legal transactions
  • The non-profit National Notary Association (NNA) was first established in 1957, assisting people wanting to become a notary

Notary Duties

Notaries handle all types of legal documents, including powers of attorney, wills, property deeds, prenuptial agreements, mortgage papers, contracts, advanced medical directives, and others. Their public trust is founded on impartiality to do their job without personal interest.

Notary services and duties include:

  • Identifying fraud or coercion
  • Administering oaths
  • Maintaining a public notary journal
  • Taking affidavits and statutory declarations and handling contracts, loan documents, marriage certificates, and other legal documents
  • Serving as a witness to paperwork
  • Taking acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances
  • Recording and verifying agreement participants’ identifications
  • Affirming the signers’ state of mind
  • Adding a notary certificate on paperwork

Notarizing Legal Documents

More than 1.25 billion papers are notarized every year in the United States to ensure that the document has legal authenticity. These public officials witness document signing, verifying the signers’ identities and willingness to sign.

The public officers ensure that the signer is aware of the document contents or transaction.

The Notary Public will sign and notarize the paperwork and add their unique notary commission details and seal. Notarizing a document is identical to the signer swearing under oath in a judicial court that the document’s facts are accurate and correct.

The public official will notarize various legal documents, including:

  • Advanced medical directives
  • Affidavits
  • Articles of incorporation
  • Commercial leases
  • Construction loan agreements
  • Contracts
  • Court papers
  • Custody and guardianship agreements
  • Deeds
  • Employment contracts
  • Estates
  • Executorships
  • Evidentiary documents
  • Licenses
  • Loan documents
  • Memorandum of understanding official documents
  • Mortgage contracts
  • Powers of attorney
  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Property deeds
  • Quitclaim deeds
  • Trusts
  • Vendor contracts
  • Wills
  • Witnessing safe deposit box contents

Who Can Become a Notary Public?

U.S. citizens and resident aliens with a green card at least 18 years of age or older can apply. The person applying for the position must read, write, and understand the English language and pass the state examination when required.

No individual convicted of a violation of the “selective draft act of the U.S. [Selective Service] enacted May 18, 1917, or the acts amendatory or supplemental thereto, or of the federal selective training and service act of 1940 or the acts amendatory thereof or supplemental thereto” is eligible to apply for a Notary Public position.

No convicted felons or those convicted of any other disqualifying offense can be appointed as a Notary Public in any state or territory in the United States.

Every Notary Public candidate will need to pass a background check before taking the notary exam and possibly acquire licensing based on the state’s requirements and pay additional fees.

Notary Public Skills

Individuals interested in becoming a notary must be comfortable with state law, civil and criminal procedure, red tape, and paperwork involved in governmental processes and bureaucracy. Typical notary skills include:

  • Compliance – A notary is responsible for upholding the integrity of the signature process. The notary must also inform all participating parties of their state’s statutes that pertain to signing and witnessing their document.
  • Record-keeping – Maintaining a journal is required of all notary officials that records the name, location, and time that all parties signed the papers. Failing to record pertinent information could render the signatures of one or all parties null and void.
  • Legal paperwork familiarity – Notaries must be familiar with many important papers, including affidavits, passports, loan paperwork, evidentiary paperwork, and others. The notary is not required to understand the legal aspects contained in the paperwork but identify the individuals at signing before witnessing their signatures and adding the notary seal.
  • Flexibility – Mobile notaries travel to their customer’s residences and business offices to notarize formal agreements at a convenient place or time. Flexibility to meet the customers’ location and schedule are often required for a successful notary profession.

All applicants should submit the application, pay the application fee, complete a training course and pass the exam.

Civil Law Notaries

Most civil law notaries work outside the United States, primarily in Latin American countries. These notaries can work in specific jurisdictions in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Louisiana.

These public officials have broader duties and authority than a typical notary public (common-law notaries) and usually work in the civil law legal system. A civil law notary can work in either Florida or Alabama but must also be a qualified lawyer.

Notarial Certificate

These certificates are detailed written statements that a notary public has signed with an added seal that certifies the facts and information contained in the paperwork are correct and accurate. These public officials are typically asked to take acknowledgments and administer oaths as a part of the certificate.

A Notary Public might also administer an oath or affirmation as a jurat (notary certification) affirming that the notary was present when the signer added their signature. A jurat affirms the truthfulness and accuracy of the paper’s contents.

The notary can also use an acknowledgment certificate to declare that the signer understands the document’s contents and has signed their name consenting to its terms and conditions. This notarial act might involve a signer who signed the paperwork outside of the notary’s presence.

An acknowledgment certificate might be required for powers of attorney, contracts, or other legal papers.

What Is a Notary?: FAQs

What exactly is a notary?

A Notary Public is appointed by a state government as a witness when others sign official papers. A notary signing agent can also administer oaths as a part of their notarial acts.

What is the point of a notary?

While a notary public is not responsible for the paperwork’s legal authenticity and accuracy, the notarial act certifies the signers’ identities. Only the signers are responsible for the document’s content.

How does a Notary Public identify the signer?

A notary can usually verify the signers’ identities by accepting government-issued ID cards, including passports, driver’s licenses, and other IDs containing the signers’ photographs and signatures.
Some states allow a notary to accept current passports from foreign countries as valid identification under specific circumstances, like signing a residential real estate transaction.

Why do I need to notarize a document?

State governments recognize that notarizing papers can deter fraud when the notary serving as an impartial witness verifies the signers’ identities on a legal document. The notary ensures that the signers are not impostors and have agreed to the document’s contents willingly and knowingly.

Can any document be notarized?

Before any paper can be notarized, it must contain texts that commit the signer in some way. The signer cannot provide a photocopy of the signature but must wait to add their signature in the notary public’s presence.
The notary will add a notary certificate on the document or an attachment certifying the signer’s signature, date, and location with the notary’s added stamp and certification details.

Can a notary notarize immigration forms?

The United States Government requires only a few immigration forms to be notarized, including an affidavit of support (I-134). Additionally, a notary is not an accredited representative approved by the US Justice Department to help people complete their immigration papers if interpretation or legal advice is required.

The federal court system has determined that non-attorneys who fill out legal forms on behalf of others constitute unauthorized legal practice.

Appointed Notaries Public

The government department that appoints notaries differs between most states. In Illinois, the Secretary of State appoints these public officials for four-year terms. Every potential notary candidate must be a resident or work in Illinois for a minimum of 30 days, be at least 18 years old, and not have a felony conviction.

Additionally, the notary candidate could not have had their notary commission suspended or revoked during the last decade.

Many states require a notary public to be bonded and insured to have legal and financial recourse if the public official makes a mistake like inaccurately confirming a person’s identity who signed the document. Usually, the notary will purchase a surety bond for a flat fee based on the state’s requirements ($5000 or more), usually in force throughout the notary’s commission.

Error and omission insurance is also available for covering legal problems should the notary make an error while processing and notarizing a document. Additionally, the notary must purchase a notary stamp or notary seal, business cards, a notary certificate, and a mandatory journal to record every notarial act.

Resources:

• National Notary Association – What is a Notary Public?