There are times in your life when it’s not enough to just trust someone else’s word or assurance. When you need to protect yourself against fraud or deception, limit your risks, or create documents that affect your legal rights and capacities, the services of a notary are essential.
A notary public, also known as a notary public, is a licensed state official who performs various functions related to official or legal documents. Notaries public can administer oaths, serve as witnesses for signed documents, collect sworn testimony (depositions), and verify or certify official documents or copies of official documents.
Notaries are public officials of the state and, as such, they must be recognized and authorized by the corresponding state agency, usually the secretary of state, before they can perform their duties. Each state has specific requirements for notaries public, and although these laws differ from state to state, they impose similar requirements. Here is the essential information you need to know about notaries public and their professional responsibilities, requirements and costs.
Responsibilities of a notary
Public notaries perform various functions related to the judicial process. While all notaries must be licensed by the state in which they live or work, notaries are not officials or employees of the state. Instead, they serve as officials who provide a variety of services that they are licensed to perform under state law.
Notaries have the same general responsibilities wherever you are, although specific state laws outline the duties that notaries must perform. Your state’s secretary of state’s office, the local county clerk’s office, or a similar government agency will be able to provide information on what notaries can and cannot do in your state.
1. Testimony and thanks
A big part of what a notary does is verify that the person signing a legal document is who they say they are. This process is known as acknowledgment or witnessing, and there are three basic steps to notarization in these cases.
- Appearance. In most cases, anyone wishing to sign a document must appear in person before the notary. However, in some situations, the signer may sign the document outside of the notary’s presence, bring the document to the notary, and affirm or acknowledge that the signature is theirs. The need for a notary to be physically present for the signing depends on the type of document being signed. For example, state law may require that a specific document, such as an affidavit, be signed and sworn or confirmed in the presence of the notary. With other documents, such as last wills and a will, it may be sufficient to state in the presence of the notary that you signed the document and that you did so of your own free will.
- IDENTIFIER. Notaries public cannot recognize a document without each signatory proving their identity. State laws differ on the types of identification notaries can use to verify this information, but common forms include driver’s licenses, state issued ID cards, US passports, business cards foreign resident identity (green cards) and government issued cards or similar documents. agency that includes the signatory’s name, a photograph, and other identifying information, such as address. Identity documents that are not government issued or have no photo (such as credit cards or Social Security cards) are usually not sufficient.
- Voluntary signature. After appearing before a notary and proving their identity, each signatory must sign the document and affirm that they are doing so voluntarily.
A verification, sometimes called a jurat or verification by oath or solemn affirmation, is akin to an acknowledgment. The checks also require that you prove your identity to the notary before signing, but add a requirement that you sign the document only after taking an oath or affirming that the contents, representations or statements you made in the document are true.
When signing the document, the notary asks you to raise your hand and swear or affirm that the content of the document is true. Swearing the veracity of a document involves promising a higher power that its statements are true, while affirming involves committing to the veracity of its statements without any reference to spiritual or religious power. Signers can choose to swear or affirm based on their personal preferences.
3. Administration of oaths and affirmations
Some situations, such as testifying in a deposition, require you to take an oath or verbal affirmation without signing any document in the presence of the notary. Notaries can administer oaths and affirmations in these situations, and the process is the same as that used for verification, except without the signature.
4. Certification of copies
Notaries can certify that photocopies of certain documents are true and identical copies of the originals. These certified true copies may be used in place of the original for any purpose necessary. For example, if you are a lawful permanent resident and the job requires a certified copy of your green card, you can take your green card to a notary and ask the notary to make a copy and certify it.
While notaries can certify a wide range of copies of documents, publicly recorded documents, such as corporate documents filed with a Secretary of State or transcripts of court proceedings, can only be made by the government agency that owns the originals.
Notary services, lawyers and legal advice
It is important to note that a notary is not a bailiff, lawyer or person who can provide professional legal advice or advice. Although licensed lawyers can become notaries public, becoming a licensed notary does not entitle you to provide legal advice or guidance, prepare legal documents, or represent people in court or in legal proceedings. Notaries can only provide specific and limited services. Providing legal advice or professional representation without being a licensed lawyer is a crime.
For example, if you want to write a will, you must have your will signed by two competent adult witnesses. If you have witnesses signed in the presence of a notary who verifies their identity, you are creating what is called a self-proving will. Self-probable wills are important because when a court is asked to determine whether your will meets the legal requirements of your state, the court may accept notarized statements from witnesses rather than requiring those witnesses to testify for it. make. or signed.
However, even if you have your will signed and certified in the presence of a notary, this act does not necessarily mean that your will is legally valid. To be considered valid, a will must meet specific legal requirements and notarization is not one of them. The notary can’t tell you if your document is a legal will, and notarizing the document does not guarantee that a court will accept it as legally valid. To be sure that your will, or any other document, is legal, legalization is not enough; you must ensure that the document complies with the applicable legal requirements. To make sure that your documents are legally valid, you should contact a lawyer for legal advice.
Conditions to become a notary
If you want to become a notary, you will need to meet specific requirements established by your state. These requirements differ from state to state, but are generally similar. You can expect the process to become a notary to take at least four weeks, but maybe up to 10 or more.
To be eligible to become a notary in any state, you must meet some basic requirements.
- Age. You must be at least 18 years old.
- Citizenship. You must be a U.S. citizen or lawful alien resident.
- Literature. You must know how to read and write in English.
- Criminal history. In some states, you cannot become a notary if you have been convicted of a felony, while in others, you must not have been convicted of a felony. In other states, you must not have been convicted of a felony or a felony involving dishonesty, fraud or deception. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is intentionally causing grievous bodily harm to someone, while the crime of posing as a law enforcement officer is intentionally presenting oneself to others as an officer. from police. Being convicted of identity theft of a police officer (if the felony was a felony and not a misdemeanor) prevents you from becoming a notary, while being convicted of aggravated assault may not do so because it does not. do not involve false statements or dishonesty.
- Voting register. Some states require that you be a registered voter in the county or state in which you wish to obtain your notary license.
- Home. Some states require you to live in the state in which you wish to become a licensed notary, while others allow you to be a resident of a border state. Others simply require you to work in the state.
- No prior revocation. You cannot be a notary public if you were previously a notary and your license has been revoked.
2. Education and testing
In a small number of states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania), you must complete a notary training course from a state-licensed educator. Educational requirements are different, but typically include three to six hours of classroom or online training. Course fees can cost anywhere from $ 25 to $ 100 or more.
A slightly higher number of states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Utah) require you to pass a notary exam. Wyoming offers an optional exam, while Ohio allows local judges to determine if an exam is necessary.
3. Background check
Some states require all notaries to submit to a fingerprint and criminal background check, while others make the background check optional or optional.
4. Application and costs
You must submit an application to the appropriate state government agency, usually the office of the secretary of state, to obtain your notary license. You may also need to attach to your application a copy of the required license exam results, proof of residency, proof of citizenship or lawful permanent resident status, and a notarized signature. You also usually have to pay an application fee, which is usually between $ 25 and $ 50. If you work for a business, such as a law firm, your employer may be willing to cover these costs for you. .
5. Notarial commission
After submitting your application, you will receive a commission from the Secretary of State’s office or the appropriate office that oversees notaries in your state. This commission details the effective date of your notary license and the duration of your mandate and may contain other information, such as a notary identification number.
Notary commissions are generally effective for a single four-year period, but can last up to 10 years depending on the state. At the end of this period, you will be able to renew your commission; If you don’t renew on time and your commission expires, you will need to get a new commission if you want to remain a notary.
6. Stamps and newspapers
In addition to your commission, you will need one or possibly two other basic supplies to perform notarial services. First, you will normally need an official stamp, a stamp that you will use to mark or emboss documents that you notarize. The stamps include various information, such as your name, the state in which you are commissioned, your notary identification number and the expiration date of your commission. Depending on the type of document you are notarizing and the requirements of your state, your stamp may also include details such as the date the document was notarized and the type of documents used to prove the identity of the signatory (s). .
In addition to a stamp, you may also need to have and keep a journal or notebook. Notarized journals are allowed in all states, but are only required in some. This log contains a list of all the documents you have notarized, the date and time of the legalization, the date of the document, the type of documents used to verify the signer, the signer’s address and possibly additional details.
7. Notarial surety
A notary surety is a type of surety or insurance designed to protect members of the public from mistakes a notary can make. Most states, but not all, require notaries to post bond for a specific amount, such as $ 10,000.
To get a bond, you have to pay a state-licensed insurer a small fee, usually between $ 50 and $ 100, but maybe more. Although bond providers differ from state to state, you can obtain these bonds from your insurance agent, banks, or surety companies. Your state’s secretary of state’s office can also tell you where to find licensed bond providers in your area.
Once bonded, any member of the public who loses money due to their errors or negligence may be indemnified by the bond issuer (the bond or the insurance company) for an amount up to the value of the deposit. If this happens, you will need to return the money you paid to the surety company.
8. E&O insurance
Unlike bonds, which protect the public against a notary’s error or negligence, errors and omissions (E&O) insurance is a type of professional liability insurance that protects the notary from any error that could cause damage or result in loss. financial problems for members of the Public.
For example, if you make a mistake in legalizing a contract that results in the signatory losing the contract with someone else, you may be held liable (i.e. sued) for the money the signer lost. E&O insurance is designed to protect you against such losses. Without it, your personal property could be in danger if you make a mistake, take legal action and lose. E&O insurance is not a requirement to become a notary, but it is generally considered a good choice for anyone who performs notarial services.
Many insurance companies, such as Geico, Nationwide, and Progressive, offer a variety of E&O insurance plans and offer free quotes. You can search for these plans online or call insurance agents in your area.
Find a notary
If you’ve never used a notary before, you might not know where to start when you need to. Fortunately, notaries public are quite common and finding one is simply a matter of knowing where to look.
Depending on where these notaries are located and your relationship with them, you may be able to use their services for free or at a reduced price.
- Your employer. Businesses of all sizes regularly need notary services, and it is not uncommon for even a small business to have at least one notary employee. Ask your employer if your business has notaries or offers notarial services to employees.
- Schools. College students sometimes have access to notarial services. University departments, registration desks, and legal aid offices often have notarial services available to students or staff.
- Banks. Most banks and credit unions probably have at least one, and usually more than one, notaries available. Some offer notarial services to account holders for free, while others charge a small fee.
- Law courts. Many state, county and municipal court clerks are notaries. Likewise, librarians in county courthouse law libraries may also provide notary services.
Government offices. Some state, county and city offices offer notary services to residents.
- Professional Offices. If you have a lawyer, your law firm almost certainly has a notary present or knows how to find one quickly. Likewise, real estate agents, financial planners and insurance agents often have a notary’s license or have employees who do.
- Retail service providers. Some outlets, such as the UPS Store, pharmacies and supermarkets, offer notary services to customers.
- Independent mobile notaries. Many notaries offer mobile services and can come to your home to facilitate certification. You can find mobile notaries with an Internet search for notaries in your area.
Notaries can charge fees for their services, although prices can vary widely and are often limited or predefined by state law. Pre-defined state notarization fees can range from $ 1 to $ 15 per signature. So if you have a single document that requires four people to sign it and their signatures are notarized, and the notary charges $ 5 per signature, you will need to pay $ 20. In states where there are no predefined or limited fees, notaries can set their own rates.
Mobile notaries, or notaries who come to your home, may also charge additional costs for your trip. Some states have preset travel rates, such as $ 0.30 per mile, while others do not. In states with no predefined travel costs, notaries can set their own costs.
If you haven’t already, you’ll likely need to hire a notary at some point in your life. Knowing what it entails, what your responsibilities are and what a notary can and cannot do, things will go as smoothly as possible.
If you are considering becoming a notary, the process is relatively straightforward and something most people are capable of, and being a notary can even become a source of additional income or a base for your own business.
Have you ever used the services of a notary? Are you a notary?