What is a Notary?

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Definition:

A notary is an individual recognized by a state government as someone able to act as an impartial witness in the signing of important documents.

🤔 Understanding a notary

The job of a notary is to make sure that those signing important documents are doing so in a legal manner. Notaries are licensed by state governments to act as a credible witness for those signing documents. They also verify that all parties are signing under their own free will and that those parties are who they say they are. Notaries have to be impartial and have no self-interest when it comes to performing their duties. Notaries help to reduce fraud and instances of people forging documents or forcing others to sign under duress. Situations in which you may need a notary include the closing of a real estate transaction or the signing of a power of attorney.

Example

Suppose you and your future spouse decide to enter into a prenuptial agreement before the big day. You have considerable assets, and your fiance’s family owns a small business, so you both want to make sure your family’s wealth is safe. In the prenuptial agreement, you outline how you’ll divide up the assets in the case of a divorce. Because you want the document to be legally binding, you take it to a notary to sign. The notary checks both of your identifications to make sure you’re both who you say you are. The notary can also make sure one of you isn’t signing the document under duress. Then, if the unfortunate day comes where you decide to end your marriage, you’ve got a legally binding document in place.

Takeaway

Having a document notarized is like getting a doctor’s note to get out of school…

If you’re sick and end up missing a big test, the teacher is going to want proof you had to be absent. You can get your doctor to write a note, confirming that you really were sick. Not just anyone can sign the note — It has to be the doctor for the teacher to let you off the hook. Similarly, a notary is someone the government has decided can act as an impartial witness to the signing of important documents. It’s not a job that just anyone can do, as it takes special credentials.

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What is a notary?

A notary (aka notary public) is an individual that a state government has licensed to act as the official and impartial witness to the signing of important documents. Notaries help to confirm the identities of signers, act as an official witness, and in some situations, take oaths from those signing written statements.

What is the history of notaries?

Notaries public date all the way back to ancient Egypt. Many societies placed notaries in high esteem, and all legal documents had to go through a notary (or scribe, as they were known). In other societies, such as the Roman Empire, it was slaves who served as notaries.

In later centuries, especially in Western Europe, notaries were often members of the clergy. They helped to prepare important official documents and keep documents safe, especially when it came time to overseas travel.

What does a notary do?

The job of a notary is different depending on the situation. In general, a notary is there to act as a witness. First, a notary has to be face-to-face with the document signer or signers. Usually, this takes place in person, though some states allow this to take place via a remote notarization video service.

Next, the notary checks to make sure that everyone is who they say they are. If you’re signing a document, they’ll check your identification to make sure your name matches the name on the form.

Another thing that notaries do is to verify that everyone signing a document is doing so voluntarily. If it seems that someone is signing under duress, they won’t notarize your document.

Finally, some situations will require the notary to take an oath from one or more of the individuals involved to make sure the document is truthful.

When do you need a notary?

There are several reasons you might need a notary.

  • An acknowledgment is when a notary verifies that the signers of a document are who they say they are.
  • A jurat, or an affirmation, requires a notary to take an oath from the signer that the contents of a document are truthful
  • A copy certification is when a notary verifies that a copy or reproduction of an official document is legitimate.
  • A signature witnessing requires that a notary witness someone signing a particular document and confirm they aren’t signing under duress.

When do you need notarized documents?

There are plenty of situations where you’ll need the services of a notary for a particular document. One situation in which notarization is common is in the sale of valuable assets. For example, in the case of taking out a mortgage to buy a home, you may need the services of a notary at the closing.

Another document you may need notarized is an affidavit, which is a statement that’s written under oath and often used as evidence in a courtroom. In this case, the notary is there to witness the individual pledge that the contents of the statement are true.

There are also plenty of situations where a notary is necessary to confirm that a reproduction or copy of an original document is legitimate. This might be necessary if you make a copy of documents such as diplomas, contracts, driver’s licenses, vehicle titles, and Social Security cards.

What is involved in notarization?

There are plenty of situations when you might need the services of a notary to help legitimize a particular document. You’ll have to know the specific type of notary service you need so you can communicate this to the individual you hire. This is important because the notary can’t give legal advice, including telling you which service you need. You’ll also have to make sure your document is complete, or the notary may not be able to complete the task.

Often the first thing that will happen is that the notary will check the identification of all signers and make sure the names on the IDs are the same as those on the document. The notary will confirm that each signer is there voluntarily and not under duress. In some cases, one or more of the signers might also have to take an oath, which the notary will facilitate. Finally, the notary will witness each individual signing the document. At that time, they’ll put their official notary stamp on it.

Where can you get a document notarized?

If you find yourself needing notary services, you probably won’t have to look too far to find one. Chances are there’s a business or government building near you that offers this service. Some of the most common places to find a notary include:

Financial services firms Automobile title transfer locations Shipping service stores Banks Law firms Real estate firms Tax preparers Copy centers Universities Libraries

You also may be able to find a notary who will come to you. Plenty of people become notaries as a way to make a bit of extra cash on the side. In that case, you may not have to visit an actual office. A quick internet search will likely direct you to these individuals.

Finally, some states allow remote notarization. A handful of states allow for a service where you upload your document, get on a video call with a notary, and electronically sign. Nearly half of states currently allow you to use an online notary or are currently implementing it.

Who can be a notary?

Most people who become notaries do so because they have a job that requires them to do so. Examples of industries that might require this include real estate agencies, banks and lending institutions, law offices, or even your local UPS store. But you can become a notary even if your job doesn’t require it. In fact, plenty of people become a notary so they can make some extra income on the side.

The requirements to become a notary differ a bit from one state to the next. Most state laws require that you be at least 18 years old, be a legal resident of the state in which you’re trying to become a notary, and that you have no criminal record. Depending on where you live, you might also have to know how to read and write English.

How do you become a notary?

The steps to become a notary may differ slightly depending on the state in which you live. But in most places, you’ll follow the same basic steps:

  1. Meet all of your state’s notary requirements. Depending on where you live, the rules might include a minimum age, lack of criminal record, and/or a residency requirement.
  2. Fill out and submit your application. Research your specific state to figure out where to submit your application, often with your state’s office of the Secretary of State or Department of Financial Institutions.
  3. Pay the filing fee. The fee varies from state to state. In some states, it may be as low as $20, while others may charge hundreds of dollars.
  4. Go through the necessary training. Some states provide notary training. Others don’t, but they still require that you get training through a state-approved vendor.
  5. Pass the notary exam. Thirteen states require that notaries pass an exam. Check with your state to see if this is necessary for you.
  6. Complete a background check and fingerprinting, if your state requires it.
  7. Get a notary certificate from your state government.
  8. Buy a surety bond. Some states require this to compensate any customers in case you make a mistake. In a state that doesn’t require surety bonds, you may consider errors and omission insurance instead.
  9. File your notary bond and paperwork with the proper authority.
  10. Buy any necessary notary supplies. This may include certificates, an official seal, and a notary journal for record-keeping.
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