What is a Notary and What do Notaries Do?

Do you need a Notary?

What can a Notary do for you? If you’re looking for an official witness for a variety of documents that require such a service, you may need a Notary Public. Read below for more about what a Notary is and what a Notary does.

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What is a Notary?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a Notary Public is “an official who has the legal authority to say that documents are correctly signed or true or to make an oath (=promise) official.”

Encyclopedia Britannica defines a “notary, also called notary public” as a “public official whose chief function in common-law countries is to authenticate contracts, deeds, and other documents by an appropriate certificate with a notarial seal.”

In broad terms, a Notary is a person of integrity who is appointed by a state government – usually the Secretary of State – to serve the public as an official impartial witness. A Notary performs a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. These official fraud-deterring acts are called notarizations, or notarial acts. Because a Notary is publicly commissioned as a “ministerial” official, they are expected to follow written rules without the exercise of significant personal discretion, as would be the case with a “judicial” official.

Because Notaries are appointed by their state, Notaries in different states have different powers. For example, Notaries in California are not allowed to officiate weddings; Notaries in Maine, however, “may not refuse to perform a wedding without a legitimate reason.” (informednotariesofmaine.org)

What duties does a Notary perform?

A Notary’s duty is to confirm and verify the true identity of a person signing an important document, as well as their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, and their awareness of the contents of the document or transaction.

Some notarizations require the Notary to have the signer take an oath, and swear under penalty of perjury that the information contained in a document is true and correct.

Impartiality is the foundation of the duties of a Notary Public. Notaries are duty-bound not to act in situations in which they have a personal interest. The public trusts that the Notary has properly screened the signer, and that the Notary has not been corrupted by self-interest. And impartiality dictates that a Notary never refuse to serve a person due to race, nationality, religion, politics, sexual orientation, or status.

As official representatives of the state, Notaries Public certify the proper execution of many of the life-changing documents of private citizens, such as property deeds, wills, powers of attorney, and prenuptial agreements.

Do you think you might want to become a notary? It’s easier than you think, and a great way to make some extra money! Take a look at our How to Become a Notary page to see what it takes to become a notary!

When do you need a notary?

There are a number of official documents that require a notarized signature. Only a Notary can perform this service. The Notary witnesses your signature, and confirms and verifies your identity to make sure that you are the person who signed the document. Most people need the services of a Notary when they purchase a home. Home mortgage closings involve a variety of legal documents which must be signed, and those signatures must be witnessed and certified by a Notary.

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Notarization: The Role of the Notary

Notarization is the official fraud-deterring process which assures the parties of a transaction that the signature on a document is genuine, and that the signer of the document signed of their own free will, without duress or intimidation.

The central value of notarization is due to the Notary’s impartial screening of a signer. The Notary verifies and attests to the signer’s true identity, willingness, and awareness. Notaries are able to detect and prevent document fraud, and help protect people’s personal rights and property. Every day, Notaries prevent countless forged, coerced, and incompetent signings.

What Does the Notarial Act Accomplish?

Notarial acts help prevent document fraud. A notarized signature certifies that the signer appeared before the Notary Public, and that the signer signed the document willingly and freely.

However, a notarization does not prove that the document or statement itself is true or accurate, nor does a notarization validate or legalize a document.

What is involved in Notarization?

The Notary’s screening of the signer for identity, volition and awareness is the first part of a notarization.

The second part is entering key details of the notarization in the Notary’s “journal of notarial acts.” Keeping such a chronological journal is a widely endorsed best practice, if not a requirement of law. Some states even require document signers to leave a signature and a thumbprint in the Notary’s journal.

The third part is completing a “notarial certificate” that states exactly what facts are being certified by the Notary in the notarization. Affixation of the Notary’s signature and seal of office on the certificate climaxes the notarization. The seal is the universally recognized symbol of the Notary office. Its presence gives a notarized document considerable weight in legal matters and renders it genuine on its face (i.e., prima facie evidence) in a court of law.

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