How to “Notarize” Copies – The Certified Copy Dilemma
Many new notaries have contacted me over the years to ask how to produce correctly “notarized copies” of important identification documents such as driver licenses, government-issued identification cards, foreign or U.S. passports.
Let’s first discuss what the term “notarized copy” actually means. The citizen is referring to the act of certifying a copy of an original document as being an exact copy of the original.
Suppose a fictional notary named Tom Teller has been approached by a citizen requesting a notarized copy of a U.S. Passport. The citizen, another fictional character named Mrs. Lola Longmire, knows what she wants and she intends to have it her way:
Lola Longmire expects Tom to make a copy of her ID and stamp the copy with his official notary seal. That is all she wants, and she says so several times and becomes demanding when Tom says he will need to attached a notarial certificate.
Let’s move on for a moment to see what Tom’s responsibilities are in this case.
According to a 2014 report published by the Notary Public Administrator’s Section of the National Association of Secretaries of State, approximately 30 states allow notaries to do some form of copy certification. Therefore, if he doesn’t already know if his state allows this act, Tom must determine first if he can perform this act.
Assuming that he is allowed to go forward, Tom must also determine whether notaries are authorized to make a certified copy of a U.S. Passport in his state (since that is the document to be copied). Some states encourage it, others forbid or strongly discourage this course of action. In fact, states vary significantly across the nation on what documents that notaries are authorized to copy and certify as an exact copy of the original. Where most states concur is, you can not certify a copy of vital records, such as death certificates, marriage certificates and birth certificates.
If Tom can lawfully certify a copy of a U.S. Passport, the next hurdle is to explain to Mrs. Longmire that he cannot merely stamp the copy with his seal as she insists that he do. In my own experience, Mrs. Longmire’s character would attempt to bully Tom into making a copy of the passport and stamping his seal right on the copy.
“If you won’t do it my way,” would threaten the fictional Mrs. Longmire, “I’ll find someone who will!”
Unfortunately, many notaries don’t understand that this request is unlawful. They say to themselves “Oh well, what’s the harm?” And, they go forward with it.
One new notary called me from an appointment last year and told me the client would not let her complete the notarial act by attaching a loose certificate; the client wanted her seal stamped on the image of the copy. I told her that I personally would not perform the certification of a copy like her clients requested, and I explained why; yet, the other notary allowed the clients to persuade her into performing unlawfully.
The notarial certificate explains the actions taken by the notary whose seal it bears. Without the certificate language and the notary’s official signature paired with the notary’s seal, the “notarial” part of the act is meaningless.
Citizens often plead that the certified copy must be on the same page with notary’s seal; they claim that the certified copy will not be accepted by the entity who has requested it if the seal isn’t on or near the image of the copied document.
I have resolved this issue in my own notary business by purchasing notarial certificate stamps, both a certificate of acknowledgment stamp and one with jurat language. By using these stamps to add certificates to documents when a tenacious citizen like Mrs. Longmire appears before me, I can satisfy concerns that the notary’s seal is on the same page as the copy.
Before adding the certificate language to a document, the client (not the notary) must decide which certificate stamp wording to use. Once I know this, I can place a proper certificate directly on the page with the copy, complete it, sign and seal it.
Consider this deep pitfall for notaries —
My experience is that the majority of certified copies of passports and other ID documents are bound for the notary’s secretary of state’s office with a request for an apostille. The notary must make the copy or supervise the making of the copy. At the very least, the notary will have the copy and the original and compare the two to verify the copy is an exact duplicate of the original.
If a copy of Mrs. Longmire’s passport arrives in the government office for authentication without a properly completed certificate attached and only an impression of the notary’s seal stamped on it, Tom will be penalized and will almost certainly be suspended from performing notarial duties for several months and could lose his notary commission altogether.
What about the states that do not allow certified copies? The work-around is the Copy Certification by Document Custodian. This is an affidavit by the constituent stating that THEY swear that the copy is a true and accurate copy of the original in their possession. The notary is only responsible for placing them under oath or affirmation that the statement is true.