What is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is a public servant, appointed by state government, to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.

Why are documents notarized?

Documents are notarized to deter fraud and to ensure they are properly executed. An impartial witness (the Notary) identifies signers to screen out impostors and to make sure they have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly.

How does a Notary identify a signer?

Generally, the Notary will ask to see a current identification document or card with a photograph, physical description and signature. A driver’s license, military ID or passport will usually be acceptable.

Is notarization required by law?

For many documents, yes. Certain affidavits, deeds and powers of attorney may not be legally binding unless they are properly notarized. With other documents, no. Private entities and individuals may require notarization to strengthen the document and to protect it from fraud.

Does notarization make a document “true” or “legal”?

No. A notarization typically means the signer acknowledged to the Notary that he or she signed the document or vouched under oath or affirmation that the contents of the document were true.

May a Notary give legal advice or prepare legal documents?

Absolutely not. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney. Violators can be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law, so a Notary cannot answer your legal questions or provide advice about your particular document.

Can a Notary refuse to serve people?

Only if the Notary is uncertain of a signer’s identity, willingness, mental awareness, or has cause to suspect fraud. Notaries may not refuse service on the basis of race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, or because the person is not a client or customer.

What is an acknowledgment?

An acknowledgment is the most common type of notarization. An acknowledgment differs from a jurat. In an acknowledgment, a person is not swearing to the truth of statement in the document, but is confirming that he/she voluntarily signed a document, and that he/she understood the nature and purpose of the document.

What is a jurat?

The main purpose of a jurat is to compel the document signer’s truthfulness. A jurat is the process of taking verification upon oath or affirmation. An example of a written jurat would be an affidavit, a deposition, or other sworn documents. An example of an oral jurat would be an oath with no reference to a document such as the swearing in process of a lawsuit or with an oath of office given to a public official.

Where can I report unethical or unprofessional Notaries?

Any wrongdoing or illegal activity should be reported to law enforcement and the appropriate Notary-regulating state official (typically the secretary of state, governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general).

Can a notary certify a copy of a birth or death certificate?

A Notary should not certify a copy of a birth or death certificate. Refer the person instead to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics or county clerk’s office in the county where the birth occurred. For foreign birth certificates, refer the person to the consulate of the country of origin. Depending on state law, the Notary may be allowed to certify copies of other documents that are in the possession of the constituent (i.e., a diploma).

Can a fax or a photocopy be notarized?

A photocopy or fax may be notarized, but only if it bears an original signature. That is, the copy must have been signed with pen and ink. A photocopied or faxed signature may never be notarized. Note that some public recorders will not accept notarized signatures on photocopied or faxed sheets because they will not adequately reproduce in microfilming. Also, if the document has been faxed on glossy fax paper, a copy should be made on bond paper and that copy then signed and notarized, as wording on glossy fax paper often fades. When carbon copies are made, the Notary will sometimes be asked to conform rather than to notarize the copies. To conform a copy, the Notary must reaffix the official seal on the copy (carbon will not readily transfer a seal impression) and write “Conformed Copy” prominently across the copy.

Can a will be notarized?

The Notary should not proceed in notarizing a will unless clear instructions and notarial wording are provided, ideally by an attorney. Wills are such sensitive and important documents that there are certain dangers for Notaries involved with them. Some holographic (handwritten) wills may be invalidated by notarization. And Notaries who make the mistake of helping prepare a will may be sued by would-be or dissatisfied heirs. Often, misguided individuals will prepare their own wills and bring them to Notaries to have them “legalized.” They will depend on the Notaries to know what kind of notarial act is appropriate. Of course, Notaries have no authority to offer such advice. And, whether notarized or not, these supposed “wills” may be worthless. In many states, notarization of a will is rarely done and is unnecessary if other witnessing procedures are used. In other states, wills don’t need to be notarized at all. Often, it is not the signature of the testator or testatrix (maker of the will) that must be notarized, but the signatures of witnesses on affidavits appended to the will.